Newest Misleading Attack on Obamacare

Avik Roy

Last night, Will sent me a link to an article and asked, “Would you like to explain this to your readers?” The article was from Thursday in Forbes, Rate Shock: In California, Obamacare To Increase Individual Health Insurance Premiums By 64-146%. After reading just a couple of paragraphs, I knew that it was a conservative hit job. Forbes is not exactly a liberal magazine. But I read on.

Finally, I came to the main point of the story. In a subheading, “Obamacare to double individual-market premiums,” it explained that a 25 year old male would pay more for healthcare on the Obamacare exchanges than he does now. That’s when I scrolled up to see who the author was: our good friend, the unethical conservative apologist Avik Roy. As you may know, Roy’s game is to talk quietly and sound reasonable while he spews out deception and lies. And since everyone is used to the more bombastic styles of people like Erick Erickson, all the centrists pat Roy on the head and say, “Who’s a good conservative?! You’re a good conservative! Yes you are!

Avik Roy’s example of a 25-year-old was telling. First, why did he pick that age? Surely there are more reasonable ages to pick. Our big healthcare problem is not that 25-year-olds can’t get insurance or that they are paying too much for it. What’s more, Roy must at least be well into his 30s, if not 40. But we know why Roy picked a young man, don’t we? He did it because that is how he could make his point.

Yesterday, Aaron Carroll published an article on The Incidental Economist, There Are Real Differences Between Us. At the time, I was baffled. He made an argument where he admitted that the purpose of Obamacare was not to keep insurance cheap for young people. He wrote:

So I’ll state this for the record: I think that some young, healthy people are getting the shaft right now. Not all, because some can still get on their parents’ plans. Some can still buy catastrophic insurance if they want. Some will get Medicaid. Some will get subsidies. But if you’re a young, healthy 28 year old male who makes 400% of the poverty line, and you currently have really cheap insurance, it’s likely your rates are going up.

OK? I freely admit that my goal in health care reform was not to protect the status quo for young, healthy males. That’s wasn’t my goal for reform.

When I first read that, I thought he was attacking a straw man. Surely no one was making that argument! How wrong I was. After reading Roy’s article I knew that this was the new conservative attack on Obamacare: a tiny fraction of the population will see their rates go up! The horror!

Note: Congress could do something about this. You can’t start a big new program like Obamacare without having to deal with problems. But of course, the House Republicans won’t tinker with Obamacare at all. It is repeal or nothing. Anyone up for a thirty-eighth repeal vote?!

This morning, Ezra Klein hit back on Avik Roy in a big way. He noted that Roy’s comparison was false. “That’s not just comparing apples to oranges. It’s comparing apples to oranges that the fruit guy may not even let you buy.” You see, those great rates for 25-year-olds are not available to all. Fully 25% of those who apply are either refused coverage at all or are offered it at a higher price. What’s more, unless this young man makes a lot of money (in which case he would almost certainly get healthcare through his employer) the coverage with Obamacare would be better than the cheap plan that Roy compares.

What’s really annoying about Roy’s new article is that just a couple of months ago, he was pushing the idea that Obamacare wasn’t that bad and that we could fix it to make it more like the Swiss system. Of course, he was disingenuous (or just ignorant) about the Swiss system, but at the time a lot of moderates applauded him as (God save me!) a reasonable Republican. And now he’s back to: “Obamacare will make us all go broke!” He ends his article with a stunning display of hypocrisy:

So, to summarize: Supporters of Obamacare justified passage of the law because one insurer in California raised rates on some people by as much as 39 percent. But Obamacare itself more than doubles the cost of insurance on the individual market. I can understand why Democrats in California would want to mislead the public on this point. But journalists have a professional responsibility to check out the facts for themselves.

Reality is almost exactly the opposite of what he wrote. In general, California rates will be lower. For some reasonably well-off 25-year-olds, prices will go up. Journalists indeed do have a responsibility to check out the facts for themselves. And that means more than cherry picking a couple of examples that prove your case and ignoring the overall picture.


I mean it: Avik Roy really is trying to kill me.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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