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How not to argue against Obamacare

One of the more talked about pieces in conservative media yesterday came by way of Forbes, and it caused quite a stir. If you missed it, the article, based on
How not to argue against Obamacare
How not to argue against Obamacare

One of the more talked about pieces in conservative media yesterday came by way of Forbes, and it caused quite a stir. If you missed it, the article, based on American Enterprise Institute research, said the typical American family of four should expect $7,450 in additional health care costs, all because of the Affordable Care Act.

If true, that certainly sounds problematic. With a weak economy and stagnant wages, an average household would struggle to afford those increased costs.

The problem, as Igor Volsky explained, is that the Forbes piece is entirely wrong.

To translate that number to a "typical American family," [the AEI's Chris Conover] took "the latest year-by-year projections, divided by the projected U.S. population to determine the added amount per person," multiplied that result by four and voila: Obamacare will add $7,450 to average health spending for a family of four between 2014 and 2022!One economist interviewed by ThinkProgress, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities' Paul Van de Water, described this calculation as one of the stupidest things he's read in a long time and likened it to arguing that college costs will increase for a "typical" family if the federal government adopts policies that help lower-income Americans afford college educations. Yes, the nation will spend more on education if more students enroll in colleges and universities, but the "typical" student already attending college won't; she or he will continuing paying tuition at more or less the same rate, while the newly-enrolled student will presumably benefit from some sort of subsidized tuition rate.The same is true here. The so-called "typical" family that Conover describes already receives health care insurance through their employer. The existence of 30 million newly-insured people -- many of whom will receive tax credits if they purchase insurance in the law's exchanges -- won't do much to move their premiums in one way or another.

MIT's Jonathan Gruber went on to Volsky, "This is a typically misleading use of data by opponents of Obamacare."

I no longer find myself surprised by developments like these. Conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been pushing easily discredited attacks for quite a while, in some cases because conservative wonks just aren't very good, and in other cases because the right feels justified in making claims they know to be untrue.

But I'm always left with the same question: if "Obamacare" were really so awful, shouldn't conservative criticism be a lot easier?

Much to the chagrin of the right (and to Politico), most of the news surrounding the Affordable Care Act has been pretty encouraging of late. That said, if the law's critics want to focus on areas of concern, there are legitimate criticisms they can point to.

We're already seeing, for example, some glitches in the Obamacare exchanges. As Jonathan Cohn explained, they're not worth freaking out over, but if you're a Republican desperate to shine a light on implementation problems, you can seize on something like this to advance a partisan cause.

There are also legitimate concerns about the law pushing private insurers to restrict provider options for those who get coverage through exchanges. If conservatives wanted to jump up and down about this, too, they'd at least be dealing with reality. Does it mean the law is a fiasco, doomed to failure? No. Is it a real problem worthy of attention? Sure.

But our discourse has become so stunted and unproductive that we're instead stuck with nonsense such as the Forbes piece, which had been thoroughly debunked before close of business. (Of course, if recent history is any guide, the fact that the claims have been discredited won't stop Republican members of Congress from repeating them on national television every day for the foreseeable future.)

Note to Obamacare's detractors: when you cling to evidence that's wrong, you make the law look better, not worse. If the law was as bad as you claim, you'd have real defects to point to, not made-up stuff.