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Gifts of bogus statistics for the health-care law’s birthday

at 06:00 AM ET, 03/21/2011


(Harry Hamburg - AP)

“This is a very special month for us because one year ago we passed the historic Affordable Health Care Act, which has made a difference in the lives of the American people.”

— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

 

House Democrats held a birthday party last week for passage of the health-care law. Just as we looked at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s floor speech noting the milestone, we will now examine some of the claims made by Democrats.

McConnell framed his speech in negative terms, citing data to back up his language. Both Democrats and Republicans can pick and choose numbers and studies to make their case, but we found that generally McConnell did not exaggerate or use bogus figures. In fact, he correctly described a Congressional Budget Office analysis suggesting a potential reduction in employment of 800,000 jobs (technically, one-half of 1 percent of household employment in 2021) that other Republicans have misrepresented.

By contrast, House Democrats appear to show little hesitation about repeating claims that previously have found to be false or exaggerated. So let’s take a tour through the numbers.

“It's about jobs. Does it create jobs? Health insurance reform creates 4 million jobs, and in the last 12 months the private sector has added 1.5 million new jobs, and of that a quarter of a million were in the health insurance industry.”

— Pelosi

Here, Pelosi is repeating a talking point from the health-care debate. The 4 million figure comes from a report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning group, which estimated that universal health care would add 250,000 to 400,000 jobs a year. Pelosi took the top end of the range and then multiplied it by 10, a numerical sleight-of-hand that Polifact last year labeled “half true.”

A Pelosi spokesman noted she has been using this statistic for 14 months now, but we frown on the reuse of statistics previously found to be suspect.

In this case, since the bill has passed, the Congressional Budget Office has done its own analysis (the one McConnell cited) that cast some doubt on the CAP analysis, written before the bill was passed into law. Presumably, members of Congress should pay more attention to estimates by their own budget agency than think tanks that promote their agenda. Repeating this dubious statistic is worth at least a Pinocchio or two. (About our rating scale)

The second half of her statement comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but it doesn’t really mean anything. Health-care jobs have long been an important part of new private-sector jobs, so 260,000 being created in the last 12 months is not out of the ordinary. For example, BLS figures show that in 2007, there were 381,000 health care jobs created; in 2006, 324,000 jobs; and in 2005, 271,000 jobs. The CAP study was not making any prediction about health-care jobs, but all jobs, so it is unclear what point Pelosi is making with this statistic.

 “It's about reducing the deficit. Again, it reduces the deficit more than $1 trillion over the life of the bill.”

— Pelosi

This is another bogus statistic for which we have previously awarded three Pinocchios.

The CBO estimated $143 billion in deficit reduction over 10 years in the health-care law, but about $19 billion of it came from unrelated items. As we have noted, the remaining $124 billion was based on a number of assumptions that called that estimate into question.

But Pelosi claims more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction by using a 20-year figure that is particularly absurd.

 As we wrote in January: “There are too many uncertainties to be precise, and the CBO itself merely offered a tentative guess of a "broad range of around one-half percent of GDP," with significant caveats. Democrats simply took that percentage, multiplied it against the predicted size of the GDP 20 years from now (itself a pretty fuzzy figure) and, presto, they had a number. But it's a fairly meaningless one.”

 “In fact, when you look at the percentage of employers with 10 employees or less that offer health care, it rose from 46 percent in 2009, and it went up to 59 percent in 2010, at the end of last year, an incredible increase that we have. That shows that it is working.”

— Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.)

Another three-Pinocchio statistic! We also picked this apart in January so we are surprised this golden oldie is still in use by Democrats.

The statistic comes from a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that was largely conducted before the health care bill was passed, so it is pretty irrelevant. Moreover, the study said the main reason for the shift was not because more companies were offering health insurance but because more that did not were going out of business.

 Gary Claxton, the main author of the report, also told us that the data set for small firms — the one Cuellar cited — was too tiny to reach any conclusions.

So, rather than showing that the health care law is “working,” the survey that is the source of this statistic does not show that at all.

 Jose Borjon, a spokesman for Cuellar, said in an e-mail: “Thank you for bringing your January 19, 2011, Washington Post Fact Checker article to our attention.  Congressman Cuellar based his quote from a December 27, 2010, Los Angeles Times story by Noam Levey. Thank you for bringing to light the correct characterization of the Kaiser employer survey. Nevertheless, stories across the country, from North Carolina to Kansas, demonstrate that small businesses are increasingly taking advantage of the small business tax credit to provide health care to their employees.”

The Times article does provide anecdotal evidence that health insurance companies are aggressively marketing a small-business tax credit in the law to sign up new customers. Still, Democrats need to drop this ”fact” from their talking points.

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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