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As Trump spins, ACA enrollment numbers climb

The more Donald Trump tries to undermine the Affordable Care Act, the more consumers enroll anyway.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

As regular readers know, Donald Trump desperately wants Americans to believe that the Affordable Care Act is "dead," and to that end, the president and his administration have gone to considerable lengths to undermine the law.

And yet, as the Washington Post reported the other day, "Obamacare" enrollment totals continue to exceed everyone's expectations.

The number of Americans signing up for health-care plans under the Affordable Care Act continues to run ahead of last year in states relying on the federal insurance exchange, according to federal figures released Wednesday that span nearly half of an abbreviated enrollment season.Between the start of the current sign-up period on Nov. 1 and Saturday, nearly 2.28 million people chose health-care plans for the coming year -- slightly more than during the first four weeks of the ACA enrollment period a year ago, reports from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show.

The latest tallies aren't entirely good news for the system's proponents: enrollment over the most recent week slowed a little when compared to the week before. That said, as the Post's article added, "the proportion of newcomers to ACA insurance crept up, rising from 23 percent of the enrollment during the first two weeks to nearly 28 percent during the third week."

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, apples-to-apples comparisons get a little tricky since Trump shrunk the open-enrollment window, but by any fair measure, the enrollment totals are better than anyone expected, especially given White House sabotage efforts.

As for why, exactly, enrollment totals are up despite Trump's efforts to suppress them, experts aren't altogether sure what's driving the numbers, though there are quite a few credible theories

Common sense suggests a president might consider good news for his nation's health care system to be cause for celebration, but Donald Trump had a different reaction to the latest developments.

"ObamaCare premiums are going up, up, up, just as I have been predicting for two years," Trump claimed on Thanksgiving. "ObamaCare is OWNED by the Democrats, and it is a disaster."

Putting aside the oddity of a president pushing such a message on a beloved national holiday, Trump's rhetoric is nonsensical. Recent premium increases are, after all, the direct result of the president's own sabotage efforts. Indeed, insurers have publicly acknowledged the simple fact that Trump is forcing costs higher through his deliberate efforts to destabilize markets.

As for the idea that Democrats "own" the latest ACA developments, I can appreciate why the White House is desperate to avoid blame, but as we've discussed before, reality is stubborn.

Ezra Klein had a good piece on this recently:

The problem with this theory is that Democrats no longer hold the White House, or anything else. Republicans, led by Trump, hold total power. They are the governing party, and they stand to absorb the blame for the state of the country. According to an August poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, by a margin of 60 to 28 percent, Americans now say Republicans are now responsible for the Affordable Care Act. [...]Trump's view, as I understand it, has been that Obamacare is so thoroughly associated with Democrats that any problems it faces will be blamed on them. Ten months ago, he might have been right. But he is president now, and his compulsive monologuing of his own master plan has ensured that the country knows he is actively undermining the law, and is prepared to blame him for the results.

A Washington Post  report added, "The Pottery Barn rule comes to mind: You break it, you own it. Yes, the plate you just shattered had some cracks in it. But if you dropped it on the ground, the store is going to blame you."

Even some in the president's party are acknowledging what is plainly true. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) recently explained, "We, the Republican Party, will own this."

Someone probably ought to let Trump know.