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GOP's fuzzy math on Obamacare enrollments

The new Republican talking point -- "only 67%" of ACA customers paid their first-month premiums -- is demonstrably ridiculous.
\"Obamacare\"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.
\"Obamacare\" supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.
If the point of a press stunt is to generate some attention for your cause, House Republicans are waking up this morning happy: stories like these were picked up by quite a few news outlets.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they have data from insurance companies that shows only 67 percent of people who selected a health plan under ObamaCare have paid their first month's premium. [...] The House Energy and Commerce Committee's subpanel on Oversight and Investigations said it contacted every insurance company involved in the federal marketplace, and based its data on people who had paid by April 15.

It's the latest evolution in the GOP's anti-healthcare line. What started with "no one will want to sign up" eventually became "no one should sign up," which morphed into "not enough people are signing up," and finally "those who did sign up don't count."
Notice, of course, that Republicans involved in this debate make no effort to hide the degree to which they're rooting for failure.
In this case, though, the trouble with the new GOP argument is that's painfully, demonstrably wrong. It's so wrong, in fact, that I'm a little insulted -- regular ol' hackery is occasionally functional, but this latest scheme is just sad. It's one thing for House Republicans to try to mislead the public, it's something else for them to be lazy about it, treating voters and journalists as if we were all easily fooled children.
How deceptive is the report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee's panel? Let us count the ways.
First, note that the Republican numbers are sharply at odds with the numbers from the insurance companies themselves, most of which put the total of enrolled customers who've paid their first premium at between 80% and 90%. Given this, either the insurers or GOP lawmakers are exaggerating, and since insurers have no incentive to lie about this, it would appear Republicans are trying to pull a fast one.
Second, GOP lawmakers picked an arbitrary and misleading cut-off date: they only count customers who paid premiums by April 15. But that's ridiculous -- as Charles Gaba explained, literally millions of Americans enrolled very close to the March 31 deadline and they were still receiving their first bill around April 15.
Third, as Jonathan Cohn reminds us, insurers specifically told these lawmakers that the data as of April 15 would be incomplete and paint a misleading picture. Republicans ignored this in order to launch a cheap attack intended to mislead.
And while these factual errors are obviously important, and were very likely deliberate, there's also a thematic problem hanging over the effort itself: House Republicans, who can't produce a health care plan of their own despite promises to the contrary, still believe ACA enrollment totals are both too high and too low at the same time.
Remember, if these conservative lawmakers had their way, the total number of consumers signing up for coverage through exchange marketplaces and paying premiums would be zero. For them to keep whining about the successful enrollment process, looking for new areas to complain about, is effectively an "Annie Hall" moment: "Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says, 'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.' The other one says, 'Yeah, I know, and such small portions.'"
Whether or not Republicans understand any of this is unclear. At a certain level, I suspect the substance doesn't much matter to them either way -- it's about making an attack, hoping the media will repeat it, and counting on at least some of the public to buy it.
But in a case like this, even this is self-defeating, since the actual data will soon be published and we'll have a new round of evidence that the Republican attacks were plainly untrue.
So why do they bother? To establish the basis for a bogus talking point: thanks to yesterday's misleading committee "report," conservative media will repeat as gospel that "only 67%" of consumers paid premiums, so the right no longer has to believe the evidence about the Affordable Care Act exceeding its enrollment projections.
It's about creating a bubble that keeps reality out, then reinforcing the bubble with nonsense.
Update: The "report" itself is online here. Note how it fits comfortably on one page.