If spiking health-care spending is so great ...

… shouldn’t the perception of ObamaCare be spiking right along with it? Prior to the implementation of ObamaCare, Barack Obama and Democrats claimed that the ACA would “bend the cost curve downward,” and then took credit for slowing rates of health-care spending increases in 2011 and 2012. Now, however, with health-care spending rising in 2014Q1 at its fastest rate since 1980 – and following a big jump in the fourth quarter of 2013, too — defenders of the law claim that increasing rates of spending are just splendid, because it means more people have access to health care.


If so, then we should see a big improvement in ObamaCare’s numbers. In my column today for The Fiscal Times, I point out the disconnect:

Is this new health-care spending really just an expression of joy over new coverage, as Obamacare supporters argue now? Fortunately, we have some metrics to judge this claim after two full quarters of rapid increases in spending. Since the White House declared victory on Obamacare as open enrollment ended, and insisted that “the debate is over,” a number of national polls have been published on the new law and support for its provisions. Not a single one of them demonstrates a rise in support anywhere near the rise in spending – or much of an improvement at all in popular perception of Obamacare.

The Washington Post/ABC poll results show the opposite, in fact. Support for the law dropped five points to 44/48, down from 49/48 in the previous poll from March. Among Latino voters – a key demographic for President Obama and his Democrats in the midterm elections – support for Obamacare dropped seven points. The news was only slightly better in the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, where support for the ACA rose from 35 percent in March all the way to … 36 percent. Those who think Obamacare to be a bad idea did decline from 49 percent to 46 percent, but all of these changes fall within the polling margin of error.

Kaiser Family Foundation similarly sees no burst of enthusiasm from consumers happy about the massive increase in health-care costs. In September, before the sharp increases occurred, opinion split on the law 39/43, numbers that remained largely stable throughout last year until the Obamacare launch. During the rollout, when spending increases began, disapproval pushed those figures to 33/49 in November 2013 and 34/50 in January. In March and April, approval remained constant at 38/46. A majority of 57 percent told Kaiser that the law clearly is not working as intended, including 61 percent of independents.

So no, the rapid increase in spending does not indicate that the system is working tolower costs, an absurd if not Orwellian construct. Nor is the debate “over,” no matter how many times Obama claims otherwise.


Speaking of not over, so is the debate over the number of enrollments. The numbers released yesterday came from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees HHS, and the committee got those numbers from the insurers. The reason the committee had to go through such a circuitous route was because HHS can’t or won’t provide them with that data — because their back-end systems don’t capture it, and probably won’t until the next open-enrollment period. When they got released, the White House screamed foul, claiming that the failure rate of 33% was too high, saying it was closer to 20%. Even that puts enrollments at 6.4 million, not 8 million, and the White House offers no back-up for its 20% figure either.

Philip Klein writes that it’s time for the Obama administration to “come clean” on the numbers:

There are important caveats to these numbers. To start, they are only for the federal exchange, and thus do not include enrollments from 14 states plus the District of Columbia that ran their own exchanges. This means the report excludes the heavily populated New York and California. …

The committee’s report noted that, “Due to the administration’s repeated and unilateral extensions and changes, as well as the fact that many insurers have reported that individuals will still have time to pay their first month’s premium, the committee plans to ask the insurers in the federally facilitated marketplace to provide an enrollment update by May 20, 2014.”

This puts HHS officials in a pickle. If they attack the Republican report as inaccurate, it will be an implicit acknowledgement that they have numbers that they aren’t releasing. So their choice is either to stay silent and let the GOP-obtained data fill the news vacuum, or release detailed enrollment data.

It’s way past time for them to come clean.


Let’s not forget that the administration had four years to build a system that could provide this data. Instead, it’s going to have to spend another $121 million to get that part of the system built, on top of the $677 million spent on the Healthcare.gov flop in the first place. If the White House tells people to check with insurers because they were too incompetent to build a web portal, they shouldn’t complain when the answers people get don’t fit with their spin — and they should be held accountable for forcing people to devise secondary metrics on their performance.

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Ed Morrissey 4:41 PM on September 29, 2023