Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Sunday dismissed the White House's recent announcement that Obamacare enrollment had reached more than 6 million people, calling it a meaningless figure. "I don't think it means anything. ... I think they're cooking the books on this," said Barrasso on "Fox News Sunday."
As much of the country has probably heard, today marks the end of the open-enrollment period in the Affordable Care Act, and consumers who don't get coverage are likely to face a tax penalty. ACA proponents have long predicted there'd be an 11th-hour surge in folks signing up, and right now, those predictions are holding up nicely.
Indeed, the White House posted photos over the weekend of events in Nevada, Texas, and Florida, where Americans lined up at grassroots events to enroll in the system.
We can't yet say with any confidence exactly how many will sign up before the deadlines, but for those hoping to see the federal program succeed, nearly all of the news is heartening. Enrollment through exchanges will likely get close to the 7 million threshold, and that won't include Americans who've gained coverage through Medicaid, through their parents' plans, or through direct enrollment that bypassed the exchanges.
All told, the L.A. Times reported this morning, "[A]t least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage" -- a number that keeps growing -- as the rate of uninsured continues to drop.
Congressional Republicans, who are making no effort to hide the fact they're rooting against the U.S. health care system, aren't taking the news well.
Even by GOP standards, this was a rather extraordinary moment. A member of the Senate Republican leadership -- indeed, the chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee -- went on national television to accuse the White House of perpetrating a fraud based on nothing but his own hopes.
It's hard to overstate how difficult it is to take Barrasso's complaints seriously. For one thing, note the extent to which the far-right senator wants to have it both ways. When enrollment totals were low, Barrasso said the figures were very important. When enrollment totals surged, Barrasso said the figures don't mean anything. At least some form of intellectual consistency would be a welcome change of pace, but it's apparently in short supply.
For another, there's literally no evidence to suggest the enrollment totals are illegitimate or have been "cooked" for political purposes. For a Senate leader to make such a reckless accusation out of frustration -- a U.S. senator is apparently annoyed by American consumers gaining access to affordable medical care -- is deeply irresponsible.
To be sure, there are reasons to keep the champagne on ice. The political world is understandably invested in knowing just how many folks sign up for coverage, but we don't yet know how many of these new consumers will pay their premiums and keep their coverage. Also, as Kaiser's Drew Altman explained last week, watching the enrollment thresholds shouldn't obscure related questions about cost, quality, and duration, the answers to which will come in time.
But ACA opponents aren't counseling patience, waiting for more information. On the contrary, they're doing the opposite -- confronted with information they find ideologically confusing, Republicans have suddenly become Luke Skywalker, learning who his father is for the first time.
"No! That's not true!" they say. "That's impossible!"
Reality, however, is stubborn. It's eerily reminiscent of Election Night 2012 -- conservatives had spent months telling themselves that the polls are wrong, the evidence was skewed, and the facts had been manipulated by rascally liberals, so they were absolutely shocked when President Obama won a second term rather easily.
A year and a half later, conservatives have told each other repeatedly that the entire federal health care system is collapsing, "Obamacare" has entered an inescapable a "death spiral," and consumers simply have no interest in signing up for coverage. The epistemic closure was unyielding and effective.
Which makes it easier to understand why confused senators would rather believe the White House is "cooking the books" than deal with the facts as they exist.