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Scott: Lies about Obamacare can’t undo its success

June 1, 2017 GMT

As an economist for the conservative Heritage Foundation, Stephen Moore gets paid to say bad things about the Affordable Care Act. It’s no surprise, then, that his recent column did just that while laying praise on the Republican-authored health care bill now under consideration.

A litany of hyperbole and lies have been told about Obamacare over the years, and it has been a sustained scare campaign that achieved its objective of whipping voters into a frenzy in order to allow the GOP to deny their political adversary a policy achievement at the expense of millions of sick Americans, thousands of health care workers and the entire economic engine of the health care industry.

What’s remarkable about Moore’s latest salvo was the way in which he opened his complaint with the audacious claim that “almost every promise made eight years ago about Obamacare turned out to be a falsehood,” then proceeded to tell lie after lie of his own. If you want to know why so many Americans who voted for Trump professed to hate Obamacare while turning up at town halls in protest that a congressman was going to take away the Affordable Care Act, you can thank writers like Moore.

Sadly, it will take this entire column to correct the record for just the fibs told in Moore’s first three paragraphs, and I like to think of myself as fairly efficient writer. Here, then, is a brief review of Moore’s assertions, followed by the facts.

“No, [under Obamacare] you couldn’t keep your insurance plan, doctor, or provider in many cases.”

Yes, actually you could. What happened for less than 2 percent of insured Americans was that the insurance industry cancelled policies that were not grandfathered under reforms in minimum coverage requirements — they were unable to continue buying faulty products, essentially — a development the president might have better predicted. But the law itself did nothing to mandate anyone be kicked off a policy.

“No, [Obamacare] didn’t save $2,500 per family (more like cost $2,500 more per family).”

The explanation as to why this charge is false and the claim of $2,500 in savings proved true is sufficiently complex that the statistics guru Ezra Klein needed a full page on Bloomberg View to unpack it, but unpack it he did, back in 2013. Here’s my two-sentence summary of why Moore is flat out wrong: as of 2013, the ACA was saving families $2,470 a year in health care expenditures, according to national estimated health expenditures.

That figure was an average, of course, and some families faced higher premiums and surely some families saw no savings. But all policy claims are averages by nature, and when out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles and lifetime limits are capped, when preventive services and children up to 26 have to be covered, when insurers have to limit their profits to 20 percent of revenues — all of which came about because of Obamacare -- Americans paid less.

“No, it didn’t lead to expanded patient choice.”

No need to reach for the Google to disprove this one – the Affordable Care Act led to the creation of dozens of state insurance exchanges as well as healthcare.gov. Yes, the website rollouts were a mess at first. Did they eventually get their bearings? Yes.

The statement that “insurance markets that have entered a death spiral” and “the entire health insurance market will implode financially unless it’s changed,” were offered with no evidence. The Congressional Budget Office has said they are false.

There is no reason to be starry-eyed about Obamacare to object to the sort of propaganda spread by Moore. The Affordable Care Act is surely flawed — it is in no way the bill you would write to stem the biggest problem in health care, which is the unsustainable rise in the cost of getting medical services. But it has done much to make the health care landscape more predictable and less frightening, both economically and personally. It helped produce a sustained slowing in the rise in health care costs for the first time in decades. It delivered on its promises to quickly sign up millions of uninsured Americans without raising the deficit, and in getting Americans covered for preventive services provided by this town’s primary employer, and putting a halt to the days when a bad test result could result in personal bankruptcy and the loss of a home.

These are genuine accomplishments that all the lies in the world can’t take away. The health care bill now being proposed by the GOP plans to try that anyway.