Krugman: Why the Real Story About Obamacare Is Not Being Told

An immense policy success is slipping under the radar.

Paul Krugman proposes an interesting theory in today's column about why the success of Obamacare is a story that is mostly being ignored by the media, and therefore kept from the American public. In fact, he suspects the mainstream news media does not even know how successful the Affordable Care Act is proving to be. Not that there is any excuse for that ignorance. How do they manage to stay so ignorant? Krugman thinks it may be because many of the people who work in media—especially the pundit class—are well enough off that they don't need Obamacare, and these media elites seldom cover poor people or even talk to them much. 

So, no excuses really. Why has the media been able to get away with getting the health reform story so wrong?

"Think relentless negativity without accountability," Krugman writes:

The Affordable Care Act has faced nonstop attacks from partisans and right-wing media, with mainstream news also tending to harp on the act’s troubles. Many of the attacks have involved predictions of disaster, none of which have come true. But absence of disaster doesn’t make a compelling headline, and the people who falsely predicted doom just keep coming back with dire new warnings.

Consider, in particular, the impact of Obamacare on the number of Americans without health insurance. The initial debacle of the federal website produced much glee on the right and many negative reports from the mainstream press as well; at the beginning of 2014, many reports confidently asserted that first-year enrollments would fall far short of White House projections.

Then came the remarkable late surge in enrollment. Did the pessimists face tough questions about why they got it so wrong? Of course not. Instead, the same people just came out with a mix of conspiracy theories and new predictions of doom. The administration was “cooking the books,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming; people who signed up wouldn’t actually pay their premiums, declared an array of “experts”; more people were losing insurance than gaining it, declared Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Of course they did pay up. All of this negativity has been completely proven wrong, and several independent surveys from Gallup, the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund bear out the program's success in getting more uninsured Americans health insurance.

Then there are the desperate attempts to give credit for the success to someone other than Obama, or the policy itself. Some have cited the improving economy.

Demonstrably wrong, Krugman writes. The biggest declines in uninsured residents are in states that took the Medicaid expansion. "It’s not the economy; it’s the policy, stupid," Krugman zings.

Oh, and all that poppycock about subscribers experiencing "rate shock." Wrong. The average premium is around $82 per month. 

Ever fairminded, Krugman does concede a point or two to the naysayers:

Yes, there are losers from Obamacare. If you’re young, healthy, and affluent enough that you don’t qualify for a subsidy (and don’t get insurance from your employer), your premium probably did rise. And if you’re rich enough to pay the extra taxes that finance those subsidies, you have taken a financial hit. But it’s telling that even reform’s opponents aren’t trying to highlight these stories. Instead, they keep looking for older, sicker, middle-class victims, and keep failing to find them.

"For the less fortunate, however, the Affordable Care Act has already made a big positive difference. The usual suspects will keep crying failure, but the truth is that health reform is — gasp! — working."

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