The AP is running a story purporting to show a “potentially bigger problem for President Obama’s health care overhaul” than the botched launch of the federal insurance exchange: “Americans who already have coverage and aren’t looking for any more government help are blaming the law for their rising premiums and deductibles.”
The basis for the story is a new AP-commissioned poll, which shows that those who are experiencing rising premiums or deductibles associate those changes with the implementation of ObamaCare. The story goes on and on about the problems this represents for the President, even bringing in a noted Harvard professor to reinforce the point and piling on a few anecdotes for good measure.
But another reading of the results could lead to almost the opposite conclusion.
Why do I write that?
Respondents were asked, “Which party do you trust to do a better job of handling health care?”
Answer: 32 percent said Democrats and 22 percent Republicans. In other words, if everyone thinks that the rollout of the exchange has been terrible (which they do), and a high percentage of people associate rising premiums with ObamaCare, and have heard unrelenting criticism of ObamaCare from the GOP, how come these same people still place much higher trust in the Democrats? Maybe because the average person is a little more sophisticated than those who are looking for a sexy angle on a news story.
What’s going on? The answer is that it’s easier to follow the current narrative that ObamaCare is a big disaster than to engage in independent thinking. The poll is biased and so is the interpretation. Here are a couple examples:
- The poll asks about changes in job-based insurance coverage, but almost all the changes are negative ones, e.g., is your premium rising, is your deductible increasing, is your plan being discontinued, is spousal coverage being restricted, are fewer types of medical care being covered? (Only one positive change is asked about: whether the plan is expanding to cover more types of medical care. And interestingly, more people (21%) answered yes to that question than the 18% who answered yes to the question about fewer types of care being covered.) If all the questions about plan changes are negative and people associate change with ObamaCare then of course it’s going to look like people are blaming ObamaCare for problems. If all the questions had been positive, (e.g., can adult children remain on my plan longer, is spousal coverage being increased, are preventive services being covered with no co-pay?) then the story would have to say people are crediting ObamaCare for the changes
- A significant macro story is that medical inflation is decreasing. In facts, medical inflation was lower last year than it’s been in 50 years. Maybe the poll should have asked about the relationship of that with ObamaCare. That could have captured some the subtleties beyond just “is your premium rising?” Maybe the story should have highlighted the fact that 30 percent of people in the poll said their premiums were not increasing or made some comparison to prior years
Bottom line: sloppy and irresponsible reporting on the part of the AP.
By David E. Williams of the Health Business Group.December 16, 2013