The Republican National Committee is again circulating a debunked “zombie” statistic about the Affordable Care Act, because creating outrage with lies, smoke, and mirrors, is far more favorable politically than it is to actually go to work developing an alternative that they can put before us and explain why it’s better. The first time they circulated this stat was back in 2012. Back then, it was silly because most of the ACA hadn’t yet taken effect. Today, it might be more relevant, except that Glenn Kessler, a fact-checker over at the Washington Post, says it’s still a bad statistic.
The stat that caught Kessler’s eye is that health insurance premiums have gone up $4,154 dollars for families. Back in 2012, the RNC got that number by simply finding the difference between the average family premium of $13,770 in 2010, and $15,073 in 2011, and said that the $1,303 increase was due to the ACA. The numbers they used came from a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
This year, they did that same thing, with numbers from the 2014 Kaiser report, and came up with $4,154. That sounds absolutely horrendous when compared to the 2012 stat they were throwing around. What’s up with that? It sounds so much like a legitimate question that we should all be asking, does it not?
If you go to their “research” page on Tumblr, you’ll see that it does, indeed, look like they did their homework, and like they’re presenting all the facts, complete with links to the Kaiser report. They said:
- ‘In 2014, The Average Annual Premiums For Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Are $6,025 For Single Coverage And $16,834 For Family Coverage.‘ (‘Employer Health Benefits; 2014 Annual Survey,’ The Kaiser Family Foundation, 9/10/14)
- Under Obama, The Average Cost Of Family Health Care Premiums Has Increased By $4,154 From $12,680 To $16,834, A 33 Percent Increase. (‘Employer Health Benefits; 2014 Annual Survey,’ The Kaiser Family Foundation, 9/10/14)
- Under Obama, The Average Cost Of Single Coverage Premiums Has Increased By $1,324, From $4,704 To $6,025, A 28 Percent Increase. (‘Employer Health Benefits; 2014 Annual Survey,’ The Kaiser Family Foundation, 9/10/14)
See? There are the links, right there. You can go look for yourself, so they must be telling the whole, unvarnished, unshaded truth. It looks so sincere, so honest, and so not like the disingenuous group that we know them to be.
As it turns out, they are being very disingenuous here.
First things first: The numbers that the RNC is using are the combined average annual premiums paid by both employers and employees. They are not just employee contributions, as the chart above shows. But the RNC doesn’t really explain that. Readers are left to either figure it out on their own, or assume that the RNC is only talking about employee contributions.
Another obvious problem, which Kessler pointed out, is that the RNC had to go all the way back to 2008 to get a $4,154 increase in premiums. So now we’re talking a much longer period of time than they imply, instead of a difference just between 2013 and 2014. The difference between 2013 and 2014 is a whopping, huge, massive $483 per year.
Kessler notes that that’s a 24 percent increase in premiums from 2009 to 2014. Premiums over the previous five years (2004-2009) went up at a rate of 35 percent. So what the numbers really show is that the rate at which premiums have been rising has slowed down somewhat.
This is not to say that the ACA is responsible for that slowdown, though. In 2009, we were still mired in the Great Recession, and some economic sectors still haven’t recovered. Also, healthcare costs worldwide slowed down during that time, as the recession hurt everyone. Kessler warns us, quite correctly, that it’s too soon, and the picture is still too murky to attribute this slowdown to the ACA.
But let’s forget all of that for a second and point out another important fact: The 2008 numbers come from Bush’s last year in office, before Obama even took his oath of office. So now they’re claiming the ACA caused premiums to skyrocket, and reaching back to a time before Obama was even in office! Come on, RNC! If you’re going to blame the ACA for something, at least use statistics that all come after the thing was signed into law!
Kessler gave the RNC four Pinocchios for their claim. We think they deserve a lot more than four, but the Washington Post Fact Checker’s scale doesn’t go that high.
Featured image: via Kaiser-HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits, 1999-2014, Exhibit 6.4.