Jesus Dominguez (C), 63, who does not have health insurance, reads a pamphlet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California March 27, 2014.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

New ACA data bolsters system’s success

Following last week’s announcement from the Obama administration, the number most closely associated with the Affordable Care Act is 7.1 million – the number of consumers who enrolled in exchange marketplaces during the open-enrollment period. Republicans, in a conspiratorial state of mind, quickly accused the White House of “cooking the books,” certain that the 7.1 million figure just couldn’t be correct.
And in a way, opponents of “Obamacare” may have been half right: the 7.1 million wasn’t entirely right because it understated the system’s success. Michael Hiltzik highlighted a new independent analysis that’s likely to make those rooting against the ACA even more discouraged.
The long-awaited Rand Corp. study of Obamacare’s effect on health insurance coverage was released Tuesday and confirmed the numbers that had been telegraphed for more than a week: At least 9.3 million more Americans have health insurance now than in September 2013, virtually all of them as a result of the law.
That’s a net figure, accommodating all those who lost their individual health insurance because of cancellations. The Rand study confirms other surveys that placed the number of people who lost their old insurance and did not or could not replace it – the focus of an enormous volume of anti-Obamacare rhetoric – at less than 1 million.
The entirety of the Rand study is online here (pdf).
The report comes with important caveats, most notably the fact that it’s based largely on survey data, which necessarily comes with a margin of error. But some of the caveats actually lean in the ACA’s favor – Rand concedes that the study likely missed some of the 11th-hour rush when enrollment totals soared.
To put it mildly, these aren’t the figures Republicans were hoping for. On the contrary, it leaves their #1 talking point in tatters.
As GOP policymakers why they hate – or at least pretend to hate – the Affordable Care Act, and you’ll likely hear a lot of vague rhetoric about “socialism” and a “government takeover,” all of which is easy-to-ignore palaver. But if pressed for something resembling policy specifics, Republicans generally point to cancellations.
No one, including the Republican critics themselves, can say with any confidence exactly how many consumers saw their plans cancelled by the Affordable Care Act. The right usually put the total at 5 million, 6 million, or 7 million. (House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said 80 million to 100 million will receive cancellation notices, but even the most unhinged Obamacare critics realized Rogers’ line was laughable.)
Part of the problem with the “cancellation notices” talking point is that it’s deliberately incomplete – the right uses it to mislead, making it seem as if all of the consumers who were forced from substandard plans were left with nothing. Indeed, some conservatives occasionally go so far as to suggest this total actually rivals or exceeds the number of Americans who signed up for coverage, making ACA enrollment totals a net loss or a small net gain.
But Rand’s study destroys this argument, concluding that most of the consumers who were required to move from substandard plans to better plans really did make the transition. Less than 1 million Americans – about 0.3% of the population – either did not or could not replace their old coverage, at least not yet.
Now, it’s very hard to say how many of those who went through the transition are satisfied and/or saving money, but all of the recent evidence suggests every Republican still using the talking about the 5 million to 7 million cancellations isn’t telling the public the truth.
And those who saw the 7.1 million figure as a ceiling are understating the case – it’s more of a floor.

Affordable Care Act and Obamacare

New ACA data bolsters system's success