Lies, Damned Lies and Bogus Statistics

On Obamacare (and much else), blindly loyal Democrats and Republicans fall victim to “false purity.”

Rob Lever Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, New York Times columnist, and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize winner in Economics, Paul Krugman, delivers remarks on February 11, 2009 at the Institute for America's Future 'Thinking Big, Thinking Forward' conference on America's economic future at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
May 5, 2014, 5:50 a.m.

Paul Krug­man is half right. The New York Times colum­nist and Prin­ceton Uni­versity eco­nom­ics pro­fess­or, win­ner of the No­bel Prize in 2008, pub­lished an­oth­er strong con­dem­na­tion Monday of House Re­pub­lic­ans ““ this one jus­ti­fi­ably call­ing their Af­ford­able Care Act re­port “de­lib­er­ately mis­lead­ing.”

Main­stream politi­cians didn’t al­ways try to ad­vance their agenda through lies, damned lies and — in this case — bogus stat­ist­ics. And the fact that this has be­come stand­ard op­er­at­ing pro­ced­ure for a ma­jor party bodes ill for Amer­ica’s fu­ture

At is­sue is a House Re­pub­lic­an sur­vey that con­cluded only 67 per­cent of Health­Care.gov en­rollees had paid their first premi­um, rais­ing ques­tions about the rel­ev­ance of White House re­ports that more than 8 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans ob­tained health in­sur­ance through Obama­care. Krug­man ac­cur­ately called the GOP sur­vey “rigged.”

It asked in­surers how many en­rollees had paid their first premi­um; it ig­nored the fact that the first premi­um wasn’t even due for the mil­lions of people who signed up for in­sur­ance after March 15.

And the fact that the sur­vey was so trans­par­ently rigged is a smoking gun, prov­ing that the at­tacks on Obama­care aren’t just bogus; they’re de­lib­er­ately bogus. The staffers who set up that sur­vey knew enough about the num­bers to skew them, which meant that they have to have known that Obama­care is ac­tu­ally do­ing O.K.

But the colum­nist un­der­mines his ar­gu­ment by leav­ing out im­port­ant con­text: His friends at the White House skew the truth, too.

The GOP would have no ex­cuse to re­lease a biased sur­vey had the White House bothered to con­duct one of its own. In­stead, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has in­sisted bey­ond the lim­its of plaus­ib­il­ity that it can­not ob­tain paid-policy num­bers from in­sur­ance com­pan­ies. They must think we’re pretty stu­pid. You don’t have to be a No­bel Prize win­ner to know that the White House can call in­sur­ance com­pan­ies as eas­ily as con­gres­sion­al staff. This lack of trans­par­ency (from what Pres­id­ent Obama prom­ised would be the most trans­par­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion in U.S. his­tory) un­der­cuts the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “8-mil­lion-en­rolled” vic­tory lap.

The White House keeps chan­ging the en­roll­ment goals, in­clud­ing the per­cent­age of young Amer­ic­ans re­quired to make the mar­ket­place math work. They must think we’re too blind to see a goal­posts shift. You don’t need to be a Prin­ceton eco­nom­ist to know that the 8 mill­lion net fig­ure, while laud­able, is not as im­port­ant as the demo­graph­ic mix.

And let’s not for­get the ul­ti­mate fab­ric­a­tion, “”If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doc­tor you have, you can keep your doc­tor, too.”

I can hear the blow­back already: “False Equi­val­ence!” Well, no; I’m not ar­guing that GOP skew­ing is equal to the Demo­crat­ic skew­ing. That would be stu­pid. But what makes even less sense is think­ing that the Demo­crat­ic Party will thrive in the years ahead by ly­ing and spin­ning a bit less than the GOP. There is no pride in be­ing the least-worst party. 

Like Krug­man, I want the ACA to work. We need to solve our crisis of the un­in­sured and bend the cost curve without un­der­min­ing the choice and in­nov­a­tion that make the U.S. health care sys­tem unique. While most Amer­ic­ans agree with those goals and ob­ject to the GOP de­mand to re­peal Obama­care, they are not sold on the pro­gram so far. A new Wash­ing­ton Post-ABC poll shows that the Obama­care de­bate is not over:

  • By a two-to-one mar­gin, more people think the qual­ity of care they re­ceive is get­ting worse rather than bet­ter un­der Obama­care (29 per­cent to 14 per­cent). A ma­jor­ity says the qual­ity has stayed the same.
  • By a two-to-one mar­gin, more people think the na­tion’s health care sys­tem is get­ting worse, not bet­ter (44 per­cent to 24 per­cent). Less than a third say the qual­ity of U.S. health care is about the same.
  • Nearly half of Amer­ic­ans say their per­son­al health care costs are in­creas­ing un­der Obama­care (47 per­cent). Just 8 per­cent re­port de­creases.
  • A strong ma­jor­ity say the over­all costs of the U.S. health care sys­tem are in­creas­ing (58 per­cent). Just 11 per­cent see de­creases.

Krug­man blames the GOP for the pub­lic’s skep­ti­cism, chan­nel­ing the White House per­se­cu­tion com­plex.

So Re­pub­lic­ans are spread­ing dis­in­form­a­tion about health re­form be­cause it works, and be­cause they can — there is no sign that they pay any polit­ic­al price when their ac­cus­a­tions are proved false.

And that ob­ser­va­tion should scare you. What hap­pens to the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice if a party that has learned that ly­ing about num­bers works takes full con­trol of Con­gress? What hap­pens if it re­gains the White House, too? Noth­ing good, that’s for sure.

Thank God for people as smart as Krug­man who can ex­pose GOP spin for the rest of us dolts. But who on the Left will keep the White House hon­est? Maybe there needs to be a course at Prin­ceton called “False Pur­ity,” ex­pos­ing the lie that grid­lock, in­com­pet­ence and plum­met­ing cred­ib­il­ity in Wash­ing­ton are the cre­ation of a single party.

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