Whither the Obamacare truther?
Last week, top administration official Marilyn Tavenner announced that 7.3 million Obamacare enrollees had paid their premiums, as they must to receive and continue receiving their coverage. On its face, it was a relatively minor news event, a reminder that millions of people did sign up for insurance.
But it was also the end of one of the GOP’s favorite anti-Obamacare memes. Those 7.3 million paying customers meant that more than 90 percent of the 8 million people who President Obama himself said had enrolled in coverage had paid for it. That might not seem surprising. But it was just a few months ago that Republicans were routinely questioning the official enrollment story being told by the White House, theorizing that a third or more of Obamacare sign-ups weren’t paying their bills and that the successes being sold by the administration were a sham.
“I don’t know how many have actually paid for it,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said in March when asked whether the law had led to a net reduction in the number of uninsured Americans. In fact, he believed that fewer people were now covered than before the law.
“I actually do believe that to be the case,” he said. Of course, virtually every analysis of the U.S. insurance rate since Obamacare coverage took effect has found an increase in the number of covered Americans.
But Boehner wasn’t alone in doubting the official enrollment figure that the Obama administration would “claim” as he put it at the time.
“We don’t know how many have paid,” Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said in reaction to the news that the law had hit 7 million enrollees at the beginning of April.
“I think the important thing is that 20 percent to 33 percent are signing up and then not paying,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said of the milestone, “which means that the 7 million figure was never 7 million or close to it.”
In the early-going, some of the prognostication from conservative commentators was downright silly.
Im told a low % — perhaps as low as 15% — of people who “enrolled” in #Obamacare actually paid first premium. Will be A LOT of attrition
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) December 6, 2013
But even as the problems with HealthCare.gov were fixed and enrollment tallies began to soar, sowing doubt about the enrollment figures became the official Republican Party line. And at the center of that gambit was questioning whether enrollees were actually paying their premiums.
Every time the administration put out a new report, it was met with tweeted skepticism from GOP flacks and officials. The House Energy and Commerce Committee even released a notoriously flawed report that concluded only 67 percent of Obamacare enrollees had paid for their coverage.
An insurance industry source lambasted the report as “incredibly rigged” because it cut off before many enrollees had had a chance to pay. But that didn’t stop it from making the rounds with conservative media and politicians.
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) May 1, 2014
— Fred Upton (@RepFredUpton) April 30, 2014
— National Review (@NRO) May 1, 2014
Last week’s news, however, was effectively met with crickets. Many prominent Republicans ignored it altogether. The best the GOP could manage was a half-hearted dismissal from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), vice chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “The administration has been silent on enrollment details for the president’s health care law, and now we know why: the number was going down,” he said. “Sadly, this comes as no surprise.”
No mention was made, however, of the committee’s earlier report, officially discredited by Tavenner’s announcement.