By Marie Burns:
When it comes to fear-mongering ObamaCare, David Brooks of the New York Times makes Sarah Palin look like a piker. Palin’s cold, cruel death panels look downright sweet next to Brooks’ “millions of Americans will lose their current health insurance,” “84 million Americans on Medicaid,” “doctors would either flee [Medicare] in droves or Congress would override the law, exploding the costs,” “159 new federal offices,” “4,103 pages of regulations,” and “other possible perverse effects.” Gemli, commenting on Brooks’ column, writes, “Entire fishing fleets must have spent months at sea to net all the red herrings needed for this column.”
As awesome as Brooks’ apocalyptic fantasies are, they are peppered with a lot of “could”s “might”s and “nobody knows.” For instance, he writes, “A report by the House Ways and Means Committee found that 71 of the Fortune 100 companies have an incentive to drop coverage.” Yo, Brooks. Fortune 100 companies have an incentive to drop coverage right now. Ever since healthcare costs began to mushroom, companies have had a great incentive to drop coverage. The House Ways and Mean Committee is controlled by Republicans and it was they who ordered the report. Democrats on the Committee called the “so-called report … contrived.” Chris Anderson of Healthcare Finance News wrote,
House Ways and Means Democrats criticized the report noting that the findings are contrived on the assumption that the companies would, in fact, choose to drop health coverage, versus continuing to provide it as they have done for years. ‘According to the logic of this so-called report, businesses could have ‘saved’ even more money if they dropped employee coverage years ago, which is perfectly legal and carries no penalty,’ Josh Drobnyk, a spokesperson for Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) told the Washington Post. The report did not ask employers whether, despite the cost disparities, they planned to continue to offer health benefits to their employees once the ACA provisions went into affect.
Well, no, it wouldn’t, would it? Because the report’s commissioners sure as hell didn’t want a bunch of benefits analysts stepping on GOP talking points. Brooks, of course, doesn’t mention the teeny little flaw in the GOP “report,” but he does add a disclaimer: “nobody really knows what’s going to happen.” Translation: “All figures and projections appearing in this column are blatant scare tactics aimed at getting you to call your Congressperson and demand s/he vote to repeal ObamaCare.”
Brooks claims that “millions of Americans will lose their current health insurance,” and he cites a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office: “A Congressional Budget Office study this year estimated that 20 million could lose coverage under the law.” Sounds serious. It isn’t. In response to the Supreme Court decision last week, Mitt Romney made the claim that “Obamacare … means that for up to 20 million Americans, they will lose the insurance they currently have, the insurance that they like and they want to keep.” His campaign later cited the same CBO report Brooks quotes. PolitiFact rated Romney’s claim “false.” But wait, Brooks adds a disclaimer: the CBO also found that “perhaps 3 million [Americans] could gain employer coverage.” (Emphasis added.) So already we know Brooks’ numbers are meaningless – somewhere between minus-20 million and plus-3 million. But Brooks is still not being honest. According to PolitiFact, the CBO’s best guess was that
… a range of 3 million to 5 million fewer non-elderly people obtaining coverage through their employer each year from 2019 through 2022 than would have been the case before the law was passed…. CBO supplemented its “baseline” estimate with four alternative, and wildly divergent, estimates. One resulted in a net gain of 3 million people with employer-sponsored insurance. The other scenarios resulted in a decline of 10 million, a decline of 12 million, and – here it is – a decline of 20 million.
So Brooks – and Romney – took the worse-case scenario, which is “wildly divergent” from the CBO’s best guess, and ran with it. PolitiFact further notes that “A number of other estimates by groups other than CBO have tracked with CBO’s baseline estimate [the 3- to 5-million figure], rather than with Romney’s figure.” In other words, that 20-million figure is a real outlier. But it gets even worse for Brooks and Romney: the CBO estimates that about 3 million people will drop their employer-based coverage because they can get a better deal through the health insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. These Americans will not lose coverage; they will choose different coverage that better suits their needs. For these people, the Affordable Care Act is a very good thing. PolitiFact says that Romney (ergo, Brooks)
… ignores 9 million people who wouldn’t have had an employer plan before the Obama law, but who will get employer coverage after passage of the law…. Even people who lose employer insurance involuntarily won’t, for the most part, be left without insurance options. They should have access to coverage on the exchanges, perhaps with subsidies. And depending on their income level, they may have access to Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, which were expanded as part of the law.
It’s also important to remember the big picture. CBO projects that, overall, the number of uninsured Americans will drop by 29 million to 31 million due to the law. [Emphasis added.]
In addition, Romney and Brooks ignore the fact that Americans currently lose coverage every day; they may lose their jobs, or their employer may change carriers. As PolitiFact writes, millions of Americans involuntarily change insurance carriers every year. “All told, this churn – which, to reiterate, is happening because of forces beyond the Obama health care law – almost certainly dwarfs the scale of the changes Romney[/Brooks] is talking about.”
David Brooks has as much access to PolitiFact as I do. Or, since he cites the CBO report, maybe he read that, too. Bottom line: when Brooks wrote his column, he more than likely knew his 20-million figure was totally deceptive. And he tossed it at his readers anyway.
Let’s look at another Brooks claim. Pay attention to the way he frames it:
The case against Obamacare is pretty straightforward. In the first place, the law centralizes power. Representative Tom Price, a Republican of Georgia, counted 159 new federal offices, boards and councils, though nonpartisan researchers have had trouble reaching an exact tally.
So, by Brooks’ account, the case is straightforward. ObamaCare is so onerous it will create 159 new federal offices, according to a Republican member of Congress you probably never heard of, though unnamed “nonpartisan researchers” couldn’t find the “exact tally.”
Tom Price is an ethically-challenged Tea Party Congressman who heads the ultra-conservative Republican Study Group. That doesn’t make him wrong, but I wondered where Price came up with that number of 159 new entities. First I thought Price might have got his figure from a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Congressional Republicans commissioned – that is, taxpayers paid for – the CRS report, the purpose of which was to determine how many new entities the ACA would create. The CRS’s answer: “The precise number of new entities … is currently unknowable.” The report listed only 46 entities (I counted ‘em) – some of them not yet even named – that the legislation mandates. So 46 is not 159, meaning the CRS study – commissioned by Price’s fellow-Republicans (or perhaps by Price himself) was not Price’s source. Still wondering, I resumed my Google search. Bingo! According to Gloria Park and Fred Barbash of Politico: “The Center for Health Transformation, founded by Newt Gingrich, recently estimated that the new law created as many as 159 new offices, agencies and programs.”
I think Brooks knows all this, too. He knows Price got his number from Gingrich’s organization, but he doesn’t tell the reader that. He also knows that the Congressional Research Service identified only 46 entities; the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service is undoubtedly the group of “nonpartisan researchers” Brooks said “had trouble reaching an exact tally.” Brooks doesn’t tell the reader that either. Instead, he tells his readers that the number of new entities created by the ACA is about 159 though the “exact tally” is unknown. It turns out the “exact tally,” so far, is 46 – less than a third of the number Brooks cites.
As for the law’s having resulted in 4,000-plus pages of regulations in the first six months after passage, I don’t doubt it. I do doubt that anyone who works for or who is familiar with the workings of the federal government would find that number of pages in any way remarkable. The law itself is 906 pages. I would rate the number of pages of regulations – many of those pages probably not actually dedicated to regulations – a big “So What?”
One nice thing about Brooks’ scary prophecies (and they are prophecies more than fact-based projections): you’ll be dead by the time most of these abominations come to pass: Brooks’ prognostications run “over the next 75 years.” I’m sure nothing else will change in the next 75 years to remedy or alter the horror picture Brooks paints.
As an alternative to the debacle that is ObamaCare, Brooks recommends a “coherent Republican plan” which he says already exists and is based on “Republican principles.” We shall save Brooks’ coherent Republican plan for another day and hope for the sake of the nation we never see it come to fruition. (Dean Baker does an excellent job of tearing it to shreds.) David Brooks says the Republican plan is “flexible, decentralized and compelling.” He also claims, parenthetically, that it is Mitt Romney’s plan, too: “(Mitt Romney has a similar plan, which he unveiled a little while ago and now keeps in a secret compartment in subsection C in the third basement of his 12-car garage). But then I never believe David Brooks.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com