Waxman challenges GOP on cancellations

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. speaks to reporters, Tuesday, May 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. speaks to reporters, Tuesday, May 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
With the Affordable Care Act's website largely functioning as it should, Republican critics have been reduced to one talking point: "Obamacare" has led to widespread "cancellations." How many, exactly? Well, that's a tricky question.
According to Republicans, a whopping 5 million U.S. consumers have received cancellation notices, effectively having the rug pulled out from under them by the reform law, left with nothing. According to the Obama administration, the number of cancellations is actually about one-tenth of the GOP's projected total, and nearly all of those consumers on the individual market will simply transition from one coverage plan to another, and won't be uninsured.
The trouble, though, is that it's difficult to know with certainty who's right. The Republican number appears to have been made up out of whole cloth -- GOP officials have refused to substantiate the claim, but keep repeating it anyway -- but Democrats can't produce a definitive alternative figure.
To that end, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Dems on the House Energy and Commerce Committee published a report (pdf) this week intended to bring the debate into sharper focus. As George Zornick reported, Waxman found that even if we use the Republicans' figure as a dubious baseline, the specific outcomes leave the GOP argument in tatters.

* According to the report, half of the 4.7 million will have the option to renew their 2013 plans, thanks to an administrative fix this year. * Of the remaining 2.35 million individuals, 1.4 million should be eligible for tax credits through the marketplaces or Medicaid, according to the report. * Of the remaining 950,000 individuals, fewer than 10,000 people in 18 counties will lack access to an affordable catastrophic plan.

In other words, even giving Republicans the benefit of the doubt, we're looking at 10,000 Americans on the individual market who (a) can't keep their existing plan; (b) can't enroll in Medicaid; (c) can't get subsidized coverage through an exchange; and (d) can't get catastrophic coverage.
Now, if you're one of those 10,000 people, the fact that you're part of a tiny percentage of the population is cold comfort. But when it comes to the condemnations of the reform law, we're still talking about 10,000 consumers in a nation of 314 million people.
Or put another way, when Republicans talk about the 5 million people left behind by the ACA, they're exaggerating by a factor of 500.
Also note, Waxman subjected these claims to a credible, rigorous process and published his findings online, inviting public scrutiny. Republicans throw around the "5 million cancellations" figure quite casually, but haven't bothered to back it up.
In this sense, Waxman's report may well serve as a challenge to GOP lawmakers to do precisely what he did: move past the rhetoric and dig deeper into the policy. Are Republicans up to the task? Can they bolster the talking points with real data? I rather doubt it, but I hope they prove me wrong.