Three large health insurers including WellPoint Inc. and Aetna Inc. say that a high percentage of their new Obamacare customers are paying their first premiums, undermining a Republican criticism of enrollment in the program. As many as 90 percent of WellPoint customers have paid their first premium by its due date, according to testimony the company prepared for a congressional hearing tomorrow. For Aetna, the payment is in the "low to mid-80 percent range," the company said in its own testimony. Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states including Texas, said that number is at least 83 percent.
House Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), thought they'd come up with a very clever idea last week. By deliberately manipulating data and ignoring facts they didn't like, GOP lawmakers issued a "report" arguing that "only 67 percent" of consumers who enrolled in the Affordable Care Act's exchanges paid their first month's premiums.
Republicans, in this case, were lying. They knew they were publishing fraudulent claims, intended to deceive the public, and once caught, the officials made no real effort to deny what they'd done.
But if the GOP's bogus number is wrong, what's right? That picture is coming into sharper focus now.
Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a Washington consulting firm, told Bloomberg News, "What you have here is very solid first year enrollment, no matter how you slice it. This thing is, at this point, well entrenched."
And what about the Republicans' report from just last week? "That was just foolishness on the part of the committee to even publish that number because it was completely out of context," Bob Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant, added.
It was obvious at the time that GOP lawmakers, including the House Republican leadership, were trying to mislead journalists and the public, and the new data nails the coffin shut. I suppose one might suggest the insurers' figures are "skewed," but let's not forget that in this specific argument, the insurance industry has no incentive to exaggerate or deceive anyone -- as opposed to, say, the party that's spent the last few years trying to sabotage the health care.
All of this leads to the larger question of why Republicans lied so brazenly, knowing full well they'd soon get caught.
The most obvious reason is that GOP officials assumed news organizations would run with their false claims, and in this case, that assumption proved to be correct -- reports on the "only 67%" claim were everywhere early last week.
For that matter, Republicans were willing to gamble that there would be no consequences for their mendacity, which now seems like a safe bet. Does anyone seriously believe GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill will think twice before making more bogus "Obamacare" claims after this fiasco?
But I suspect the key reason House Republicans came up with this idea in the first place is that they created a beast and that beast must be fed. The right has so much invested in defining the Affordable Care Act as a horrific failure that Republicans got a little desperate when enrollment totals were well in excess of projections and each passing day showed the ACA looking stronger and more successful.
The volume on the right's feedback loop, in other words, has to be turned up manually on occasion to keep reality at bay. The Republicans' media allies repeated the "only 67%" line as gospel, and in all likelihood, it's already been adopted as fact by many GOP voters nationwide.
So long as the party is rewarded for deliberate deceptions, this will not change.