My Response to Edward Morrissey

Yesterday, at around the same time that (outgoing) HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius confirmed my estimate that ACA exchange QHP enrollments had hit 7.5 million people, Edward Morrissey wrote an article over at Yahoo News claiming that (wait for it) the HHS Dept. was "cooking the books":

Last week, that [the ACA being here to stay] sounded like wishful thinking. Two new studies released this week prove it. 

The studies that he uses are the Rand Corp. survey and a study released by Express Scripts regarding prescription drug coverage. I'm not even going to get into the Express Scripts study, because Mr. Morrissey makes so many errors in the Rand section I don't even think it's necessary to continue beyond that:

While the White House can claim credit for a net increase of 9.3 million insured and a lowered uninsured rate from 20.5 percent to 15.8 percent, the data provides a significantly different picture than that painted by President Obama and the ACA’s advocates. 

First, a significant amount of this increase comes from Medicaid enrollments, not private insurance. Almost six million people enrolled in Medicaid, and earlier studies showed that a relatively small number of those came from the expansion built into the ACA; most of these would have been Medicaid-eligible prior to the reform. 

First, notice how he dismisses the millions of Medicaid enrollments as if they somehow "don't count". You know, millions of people gaining access to healthcare who are too poor to afford it otherwise. Yeah, screw them, right?

In any event, which "earlier studies" is he referring to? He doesn't say. I'm assuming he's referring to the most-recent Avalere Health study, which found that 2.4 - 3.5 million of the Medicaid enrollees have been added specifically due to the ACA. Yes, some of these folks may have already been eligible, but they enrolled now because of the massive education/outreach program included as part of the exchange launch last fall. Not sure how 40% - 70% of the total can be characterized as "a relatively small number".

In addition, the Avalere Health report came out on March 3rd, and only counted enrollments through the end of January. That's right: A full 1/3 of the enrollment period--including that massive surge in the last 2 weeks of March--wasn't even included in this report.

Avalere hasn't released their latest report on Medicaid enrollees yet, but a preliminary projection by them has the final ACA-enabled Medicaid enrollee tally coming in at 4.3 million. Again, not sure how 71% is "a small number", but whatever. Perhaps Morrissey is referring to a different Medicaid study...but we don't know, because he never specifies what "earlier studies" he's talking about.

Moving onto the main point, the exchange QHP enrollments, Morrissey is even more full of hooey:

Another 8.2 million more people enrolled in employer-provided health care, as 7.1 million left the “other” category and another 1.6 million left the individual insurance markets. Only 3.9 million actually enrolled in insurance plans through state or federal exchanges – not 7.1 million as claimed by Obama. That number falls far short of even the lowered expectations issued by HHS and the White House earlier this year. 

Um, guess what, Mr. Morrissey? The number of enrollments through mid-March--the point at which the Rand study wrapped things up--was actually around 4.9 million, not 3.9 million.

So, what accounts for the million difference? Well, one theory is that the Rand study only includes 18 - 64 year olds...NO CHILDREN WERE INCLUDED. If this is accurate, that means that if I had been surveyed, my family would only be counted as 2 people instead of 3, since our son wouldn't be added to the total!

The other theory which I've posited is that the Rand study lopped off about 20% of the 4.9M in order to account for unpaid enrollments, which seems more logical to me.

The thing is, though, that it doesn't really matter...because again, the Rand study still finished up before a whopping 2.2 million enrollees were added in the last 2 weeks of March!

This was the point I stopped reading the article, because Mr. Morrissey is utterly full of garbage here.

Now, don't get me wrong: I've made honest mistakes myself, and when called out on them I've promptly admitted my error and posted an update, taking full responsibility for the mistake...and I'm just an amateur at this.

You would certainly think that a professional columnist and radio host, syndicated in major news media outlets would be a little more careful.