Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Surprise! Americans for Prosperity continues to mislead on Obamacare

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2013 at 1:09 PM

click to enlarge FUDGING THE NUMBERS: Cline
We’ve already seen that when it comes to Obamacare, Americans for Prosperity has offered up misleading arguments (not to mention bizarre ads). No surprise that with the premiums released earlier this week, they’re at it again.

After the plans were released, AFP Arkansas Director Jason Cline tweeted out a supposed comparison between rates pre- and post-Obamacare:

27 yr old male per month pre-#aca in #AR - $54.96/ post ACA-PO per month $299 bronze, $344 silver, $394 gold

According to Avik Roy’s Obamacare map tool at Forbes, $54 is the price of the cheapest non-smoking plans available in Arkansas pre-Obamacare for a 27-year-old male. So to do a fair comparison, Cline picked the cheapest Obamacare non-smoking plan, right? Nope.

In fact, the cheapest Bronze plans are between $170-190 for a 27-year-old, depending where you live. Even if you wanted to create a somewhat uneven comparison and take the average of all Bronze plans, that’s around $200.(Comparing Silver or Gold plans to barebones coverage available pre-Obamacare doesn't make sense, so let's just ignore that bit.) So where on earth did Cline come up with $299? I asked, and he triumphantly tweeted out a picture of one particular plan.

Guess what? He had picked the most expensive Bronze plan in one particular region (which happened to be one of the most expensive). Oh, and he chosen a plan for a smoker, whereas the $54 rate would be for a non-smoker.

In other words, he chose the cheapest pre-Obamacare coverage and compared it to the most expensive post-Obamacare coverage. I cannot know whether he was intentionally attempting to mislead; I do know for certain that he was making precisely the sort of argument that someone attempting to mislead would make. But hey, mistakes happen, and maybe Cline just didn't read through the full document listing the various plans. Unfortunately, when confronted, Cline — along with whoever operates the AFP Arkansas Twitter account — didn't just say "my bad." They simply asserted that the numbers used were "real" because, hey, $299 is the price of a plan. 

Now there are lots of other problems with the kind of comparison Cline was ineptly attempting — it doesn’t take into account subsidies which will lower the sticker price for many, it doesn’t take into account that healthy young males were advantaged by the price discrimination of the status quo to the detriment of others, it doesn't take into account that folks with serious pre-existing conditions can't get anywhere near those cheap rates today, it doesn't take into account that the Obamacare plans will offer additional coverage and protection. But all that aside, if Obamacare opponents want to compare sticker prices, any honest Obamacare proponent will concede that the sticker-price premiums are higher for many healthy folks on the new plans compared to cheaper plans available on the private market today (as we’ve reported and acknowledged).

But if you’re going to compare sticker prices, you have to do it honestly. Imagine if I found the most expensive pre-Obamacare plan possible available today — the lowest deductible, gold-plated coverage, and let’s give our consumer a highly risky pre-existing condition. If I compared that price to the price of the cheapest possible Obamacare plan — say, catastrophic coverage in the least expensive region…I think it’s fair to say that I would either be laughed at, or simply called dishonest.

It’s especially bizarre that AFP would fudge the numbers since the actual numbers could have made the point they were trying to make, albeit less dramatically. The clumsy execution of this attempted ruse is funny, and we can all have a good laugh. But the spread of misleading information is also pernicious. Obamacare really is complicated. These plans don't impact most people, but for those that are impacted, it can be confusing. When you have groups like AFP putting out inaccurate information likely to confuse people further (and desperately trying to stop outreach to inform folks and help them through the process), that ultimately just hurts the real people whose lives this law affects.

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