U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner walks to his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 6, 2014.
Larry Downing/Reuters

Boehner’s casual indifference to healthcare facts

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a press conference late last week and said, practically as an afterthought, that there are “less people today with health insurance than there were before this law went into effect.” That didn’t make any sense, so a reporter followed up.
REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, you said a minute ago there are fewer people today with health insurance then when the law was passed. I want to make sure I understand. You’re saying that “Obamacare” has resulted in a net loss of insurance?
 
BOEHNER: I believe that to be the case. When you look at the 6 million Americans who have lost their policies and some – they claim 4.2 million people who have signed up – I don’t know how many have actually paid for it – that would indicate to me a net loss of people with health insurance.
The problem, of course, is that none of this is even remotely true. Boehner starts with a bogus claim (6 million have received cancelation notices, which is a wildly inflated figure), adds another bogus claim (all 6 million are now uninsured, which is absurd), then adds yet another bogus claim (Obamacare has made the uninsured rate worse, which doesn’t make sense).
 
When Glenn Kessler asked the Speaker’s office to defend the claims, “Boehner’s staff did not want to engage,” and it’s easy to understand why – who wants to defend their boss when he’s shamelessly misleading the public about something important?
 
Kessler added, by the way, “This was not a mere flub by the speaker, as he restated his position when an incredulous reporter asked for clarification. But his assertion flies in the face of the facts.”
 
But while pointing to the House Speaker’s brazen dishonesty matters, there are some larger angles to keep in mind.
 
The first is appreciating Boehner’s casual indifference to policy details. It’s possible the Speaker knew he wasn’t telling the truth about the “net loss,” but it’s just as likely he didn’t much care either way. The press conference wasn’t about Boehner presenting facts; it was about the Republican leader pushing election-year rhetoric.
 
Indeed, throughout the rest of the press conference, the Speaker continued to just repeat one dubious assertion after another, without any regard for whether any of his rhetoric could withstand even the slightest scrutiny. Boehner condemned changes to Medicare Advantage that he and other Republicans support; he suggested the White House has “quietly … abandoned the individual mandate” despite reality; and he insisted “tens of millions of Americans are going to lose their policies next year and the year after,” though we already know this is wrong.
 
Maybe Boehner simply has no idea what he’s talking about. Maybe he’s deliberately trying to mislead the public. Or maybe he just doesn’t give a darn anymore, so he condemns “Obamacare” in such a haphazard way that niceties such as facts are no longer relevant.
 
Finally, take a look at this exchange in reference to last week’s special election in Florida.
REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, is it possible for Republicans to overstate how much health care was involved in the Florida race? And are there any lessons here that you would like to send to other Republicans between now and the fall – how to deal with “Obamacare” in –
 
BOEHNER: Well, as you’ve heard me say more than once, the issue is jobs. The American people – there aren’t enough jobs out there, we’re not expanding the economy, wages aren’t increasing, and it’s because of the president’s policies. Chief amongst those policies that are hurting the economy is the issue of “Obamacare.” And so it’s hurting jobs, it’s hurting the American people because they’re all paying more, and a lot of people are losing their policies.
When Republicans talk about running against the Affordable Care Act in 2014, it’s important to understand what they mean, because on the surface, the strategy is nonsensical. Why would a major political party run against giving millions of families access for affordable medical care?
 
But as Boehner’s answer makes clear, Republicans hope to use the ACA as some kind of proxy. Worried about the economy? Blame Obmacare. Feeling anxiety about the future? Blame Obmacare. Think unemployment is too high? Blame Obmacare. Concerned about stagnant wages? Blame Obmacare.
 
As a policy matter, this is gibberish, but Boehner has never cared about policy, and sees no point in trying to support his claims with evidence. This isn’t about what’s true; it’s about what people can be made to believe.
 

Affordable Care Act, John Boehner and Obamacare

Boehner's casual indifference to healthcare facts