Democrats Pre-But Tomorrow’s Republican Obamacare Talking Point, Today

They’re hoping to get out ahead of a new government report that suggests that premiums will go up for most small businesses.

House Democratic leaders (L-R) House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) talk to reporters after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.
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Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Feb. 21, 2014, 2:26 p.m.

After get­ting hammered on a series of gov­ern­ment re­ports that they felt Re­pub­lic­ans un­fairly char­ac­ter­ized, Demo­crats are tak­ing the un­usu­al step of re­spond­ing to an­oth­er po­ten­tially dam­aging re­port be­fore the GOP at­tacks even start.

The re­port, re­leased late Fri­day by the Ac­tu­ary of the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices, looks at the im­pact two pro­vi­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act will have on health in­sur­ance premi­ums for small busi­nesses. Re­pub­lic­ans re­ques­ted the re­port in 2011 when they slipped it in­to an ap­pro­pri­ations bill.

Demo­crats ex­pect the GOP to seize on a por­tion of the re­port that es­tim­ates that premi­ums will go up for most small firms.

“[W]e are es­tim­at­ing that 65 per­cent of the small firms are ex­pec­ted to ex­per­i­ence in­creases in their premi­um rates while the re­main­ing 35 per­cent are an­ti­cip­ated to have rate re­duc­tions,” the CMS re­port reads. “This res­ults in roughly 11 mil­lion in­di­vidu­als whose premi­ums are es­tim­ated to be high­er as a res­ult of the ACA and about 6 mil­lion in­di­vidu­als who are es­tim­ated to have lower premi­ums.”

Those are very scary words for Demo­crats, and something you could ex­pect to see in a Re­pub­lic­an at­tack ad.

But that pas­sage doesn’t tell the whole pic­ture, says Drew Ham­mill, a spokes­man for House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi. “This re­port is the latest in­stance of House Re­pub­lic­ans at­tempt­ing to peddle half-truths and in­com­plete data to jus­ti­fy their blind ob­ses­sion with re­peal­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act,” Ham­mill said in a state­ment. “The Ac­tu­ary notes in the re­port that the find­ings are in­com­plete, but Re­pub­lic­ans are only in­ter­ested in what they can use to mis­lead and de­ceive Amer­ic­ans about the ACA and its ef­fect on what small busi­nesses will pay for health cov­er­age.”

The staff of Rep. Henry Wax­man, the rank­ing mem­ber of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, re­spon­ded to the re­port Fri­day in de­tail, not­ing that nowhere does it say that the av­er­age premi­um for small busi­nesses over­all will go up. While premi­ums might go up for some, Wax­man’s re­but­tal says, they won’t over­all, and “[o]n av­er­age, the premi­um de­creases would be lar­ger than the premi­um in­crease.”

The re­port’s 65-35 con­clu­sion is based on the as­sump­tion that about 65 per­cent of busi­nesses cur­rently pay be­low-av­er­age prices, while 35 per­cent pay above av­er­age. After Obama­care, all busi­nesses will end up closer to the av­er­age.

That dis­par­ity comes from the fact that in­sur­ance com­pan­ies used to be able to charge more to com­pan­ies that em­ployed sick work­ers, and could also charge more for wo­men. That meant dis­pro­por­tion­ately high­er bills for a minor­ity of com­pan­ies.

Un­der Obama­care, however, that’s no longer al­lowed. In­sur­ance com­pan­ies can’t dis­crim­in­ate against sick people or wo­men. They can only charge more based on age, geo­graph­ic area, to­bacco use, and wheth­er the policy is for an in­di­vidu­al or fam­ily.

This change is good, Demo­crats say, be­cause it will make the mar­ket­place more fair. They also point out that the CMS re­port it­self leaves a lot of wiggle room. “There is a rather large de­gree of un­cer­tainty as­so­ci­ated with this es­tim­ate,” the re­port reads, adding that the real im­pact “could vary sig­ni­fic­antly.”

A RAND Cor­por­a­tion study, cited by the new re­port, ana­lyzed the im­pact of the en­tire health law on small busi­nesses’ av­er­age premi­ums and de­term­ined that “the ef­fect would be min­im­al.” The Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice looked at the same ques­tion and also con­cluded that the over­all im­pact would be small, ran­ging “from an in­crease of 1 per­cent to a re­duc­tion of 2 per­cent in 2016.”

Wheth­er their pre-push-back works re­mains to be seen. In the past two weeks, Demo­crats have been raked over the coals for two dif­fer­ent CBO re­ports, and had trouble chan­ging the nar­rat­ive, even when the facts were on their side.

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