Commentary Magazine


ObamaCare’s Credibility Gap

As each warning and worry about the viability of ObamaCare is vindicated by its disastrous rollout, the mainstream reporting tends to take on a decidedly “born yesterday” tone. A case in point is today’s New York Times story on the fact that the early figures show ObamaCare’s enrollees “tend to be older and potentially less healthy, officials said Monday, a demographic mix that could threaten the law’s economic underpinnings and cause premiums to rise in the future if the pattern persists.”

Nobody should be surprised by this, except those living in the left’s hermetically sealed ideological cocoon that deprived them of the facts about ObamaCare. Apparently, the Times is reporting from that cocoon. It continues: “Questions about the law’s financial viability are likely to become the next line of attack from its critics, as lawmakers gear up for the midterm elections this fall.”

The “next line of attack”? Or a line of attack that has been part of conservatives’ warnings about the health law for years? The answer, of course, is the latter. But the Times and perhaps its loyal readership are surprised. This story is related, strangely enough, to the Washington Post’s “fact checker” column on Marco Rubio’s criticism of the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion. The column, written by Glenn Kessler, first cites the Rubio quote from CBS’s Face the Nation under examination:

“Under Obamacare, when you turn Medicaid over to the states, what you’re saying to them is the money will be available up front for the expansion for a few years, then the money will go away but you get stuck with the unfunded liability.”

Kessler is displeased. Here’s his explanation for why Rubio deserves three out of four possible Pinocchios:

Under the health-care law, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Then the federal match is pared back to 95 percent in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and then 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. It would stay at the 90 percent level unless the lawmakers change or repeal the legislation.

So, rather than getting $1 back for every $2 spent, states would get $9 back for every $10 spent. (This is a simplified version of a complex formula. The Kaiser Family Foundation in 2013 issued a report with all of the details.)

So, only in a very narrow sense does the money “go away.” The match declines a bit, and certainly Congress could change its mind, but at the moment this looks like a better deal than the current system.

So, in other words, Rubio is basically right that the government takes away matching funds, he just wasn’t clear enough on how much of the matching funds go away. And he’s absolutely right that states are then “stuck with the unfunded liability.” Additionally, what does it matter that Kessler says this “looks like a better deal than the current system”? The claim is that the government lures states by initially matching their costs and then reduces those matching funds, leaving states on the hook for the rest.

Here’s what Rubio didn’t say: “then the money will go away but you get stuck with the unfunded liability–and I bet if you ask Glenn Kessler, he would say that this isn’t a better deal than the current situation.” Kessler’s opinion of the deal is unambiguously irrelevant. So this has devolved from a supposed “fact check” into What Glenn Kessler Would Say To Marco Rubio If He Had Been The Host Of Face The Nation Instead Of A Post Columnist.

But there’s more:

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, an Obamacare critic, has argued that the federal match is “too good to be true.” He believes that publicity about the law will bring people out of the “woodwork” who had been previously eligible but had never signed up for the law. Those people would not be covered under the 90-10 match but the older 50-50 formula, thus increasing costs for states.

So what does Kessler’s unsuccessful attempt to spin the Medicaid expansion have in common with the Times report from the cocoon? They both help explain the utter lack of credibility that ObamaCare’s defenders have in the post-rollout discussion. Conservatives were once dismissed as racists or cranks for their warnings about ObamaCare, but they’ve been right.

The Times frets that conservatives might introduce an argument they’ve long been making. The only difference is that the Times now considers it a legitimate and even pressing argument. Kessler waves away Rubio’s concern that the Democrats will change ObamaCare rules on the fly. But that is the story of ObamaCare thus far. Still, one can understand Kessler’s irritation: the credibility is now with ObamaCare’s critics–and what’s a “fact checker” without his credibility?

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