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Monday, Dec 22, 2014

The Right Stuff

A politics blog by Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson's baseball card - if he had one - would report he throws left, writes right. In his columns and blog, "The Right Stuff," southpaw Jackson provides insight into the evolving human condition from a distinctly conservative point of view.

Uninsured numbers dip; left gloats – prematurely?

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There was crowing all around on the left the other day when Gallup announced it detected a steep drop in the number of uninsured Americans in the first quarter of 2014, down to 15.6 percent from 18.0 percent (an all-time high) at the end of the third quarter in 2013.

Gallup credits Obamacare for the drop (but not for the third-quarter spike, when individual-market policyholders were getting dumped for “substandard” insurance), saying the program “appears to be accomplishing its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance coverage.

“Even within this year’s first quarter, the uninsured rate fell consistently, from 16.2 percent in January to 15.6 percent in February to 15.0 percent in March. And within March, the rate dropped more than a point, from 15.5 percent in the first half of the month to 14.5 percent in the second half—indicating that enrollment through the healthcare exchanges increased as the March 31 deadline approached.”

Supporters eager to brace President Obama’s triumphant Rose Garden pronouncement last week — “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay”—rhapsodized about Gallup’s report.

Posted under the banner of the Rachel Maddow Show, blogger Steve Benen wrote, “Lazy partisans and ideologues can ignore all of this and cling desperately to the notion that the law is not only failing, but is also ‘a catastrophe like no other,’ [quoting Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal] but they really shouldn’t bother. The evidence to the contrary is simply too overwhelming.”

Writing at politicususa.com (“Real Liberal Politics”), blogger Justin Baragona added this conciliatory thought: “The fact is, the ACA is here to stay. It isn’t going to be repealed and only far-right ideologues who are looking to make hay among the ignorant and virulently racist voters in America who just want to hate everything President Obama does will continue to pretend that they are going to get it repealed.”

All of this stuff-it-right-wingers ball-spiking presumes all, or even a substantial majority, of the insured under Obamacare are happy with their coverage, premiums, deductibles, networks, hospital choices and access to their doctors. It might just as likely turn out that some prominent fraction feel like they’ve been shoehorned into Yugos with punctured spare tires and ordered to make Buick-like installment payments, and would be eager to learn about less coercive alternatives.

But there’s also this, which is the one enduring lesson I gleaned from Evelyn Gadd’s eighth-grade science class at Sligh Junior High School: The only way to extract reliable data from an experiment is to control all the possible variables but one. The drop in the rate of the uninsured cited by Gallup does not do that.

This confluence of Obamacare events cannot be denied their role: HealthCare.gov finally gained a measure of reliability at the same time the White House unleashed a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign (paid for by us) and the first open-enrollment deadline came due.

But even the ACA’s fan club will concede there’s too much noise in the early numbers to know exactly, or even abundantly, what’s going on. Meanwhile, a study by the non-profit RAND Corporation adds to the racket while sprinkling a little cold water on the Here-To-Stay celebration.

People getting covered through their employer (7.2 million) played the biggest factor in reducing the number of uninsured, which makes sense. Some companies have added plans, anticipating the employer mandate. Moreover, despite achingly and historically slow emergence from the Great Recession, about 1.12 million Americans found jobs from October through March.

Medicaid expansion in 26 states and the District of Columbia accounted for the next biggest block of newly insured (3.6 million), and then the federal and state exchanges (1.4 million, or less than 4 in 10 of the total enrollees — 3.9 million — identified by RAND).

In short, the picture is still coming together. More people are covered (although not as many as in the last quarter of 2008), and Democratic candidates are being encouraged to board the bandwagon, but Rasmussen finds 58 percent of likely voters view Obamacare at least somewhat unfavorably, and about that many have bad feelings about the future quality (it’ll go down) and costs (they’ll go up) of medical care as long as the ACA remains in place.

And so it goes.

Over? This is just getting warmed up.

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