The bogus claim that Obamacare has boosted the number of uninsured

(John Hanna/AP)

“It’s hard to get accurate numbers on anything. But the numbers we see today is that — as I understand them — we believe there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president’s health-care plan went into effect. And I thought the goal was to bring more people into insurance.”

– Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), remarks at a town hall in Salina, Kan., April 14, 2014

“There are more folks uninsured today in our district, we believe, than were uninsured before Obamacare kicked in.”

– Huelskamp. remarks at a town hall in Hays, Kan., April 17, 2014

This column has been updated with a statement from Huelskamp

Rep. Tim Huelskamp is a tea party favorite who has long been a skeptic of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, but his recent remarks during a swing of town halls jumped out at The Fact Checker. He referred to “numbers” that showed that, even after all the hoopla about 8 million Americans enrolling on the exchanges, the number of uninsured in Kansas has actually risen since the law went into effect.

What is he looking at?

The Facts

We waited a few days for an answer from Huelskamp’s staff. Jamie Jackson, his spokesman, told The Fact Checker he was looking for numbers, but then did not provide them. (Update: Twelve hours after this column appeared, Huelskamp released a statement, which is reprinted in full below, with some commentary.)

One likely reason for Huelskamp’s failure to provide backup data: There are no useful numbers on the number of uninsured since the enrollment period started in October 2013.

Scott C. Brunner, senior analyst at the Kansas Health Institute, which closely studies health data in the state, said the most recent figures available are for 2012, courtesy of the Census Bureau. “We are in the dark until Census releases the data for 2013,” he said, adding that even that data set would not cover the entire enrollment period that ended in April.

Brunner noted that the number and percentage of uninsured has been relatively stable in Kansas over the past five years, except for a jump in 2010 that stemmed from the Great Recession. Here are the figures, drawn from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

2008: 341,000    14.2 percent

2009: 350,000    14.4 percent

2010: 381,000    15.5 percent

2011: 353,000    14.3 percent

2012: 357,000    14.5 percent

Brunner said the difference between 2011 and 2012 is so small that it effectively could stem from sampling error. He also noted that the percentage of the uninsured is the more relevant number over time, as it could account for any increase in the raw numbers that resulted from population growth.

(We should note that some elements of the health-care law went into effect in 2010, such as a provision that allowed young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance. The Kansas Health Institute has documented that the percentage of young adults in Kansas without insurance dropped from 26.8 percent in 2009 to 22.9 percent in 2012. The four-percentage-point decrease in uninsured 19- to 25-year-olds was accompanied by a four-percentage-point increase in private insurance coverage.)

As of March 1, meanwhile, 29,309 Kansans had signed up for health care on the federal exchanges, with 78 percent qualifying for a federal subsidy, according the Department of Health and Human Services. The data are more murky on Medicaid enrollment — Kansas did not agree to expand the program — but that could add another 10,000 or so people to the insurance rolls.

Of course, it is still not clear what percentage of enrollees in exchange plans will end up making payments — 85 or 90 percent is an accepted estimate — but these numbers also do not include the huge surge at the end of the enrollment period. Even if just 15,000 turn out to be previously uninsured, that would cut the uninsured rate by three-fourths of a percentage point.

While Republicans have often — incorrectly — tried to subtract “canceled” plans against enrollment numbers, it turns out few plans were canceled in Kansas despite initial reports that thousands of plans might be terminated.

For instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the largest carrier in Kansas, initially sent 10,000 letters of cancellation but then withdrew them after the Obama administration offered a fix that would allow people to keep noncompliant plans, according to Linda J. Sheppard, director of health care policy and analysis at the Kansas Insurance Department. Other companies also allowed customers to keep their plans, and the state announced in March that the extension would continue until 2016.

“Bottom line, at this point we believe the number of plans that were actually canceled or non-renewed is low,” Sheppard said.

In other words, even that dog won’t hunt.

The Pinocchio Test

Members of Congress have a responsibility to be factual and accurate, especially when speaking to constituents about federal policies. But as far as we can tell, in at least two instances Huelskamp simply invented his claim that “numbers” exist showing that “there are more people uninsured today in Kansas” since the health-care law was implemented. Not only are there no up-to-date data, but the available figures concerning young adults and exchange enrollments provide good evidence that the law has led to a decrease in the number of uninsured.

Huelskamp can be as big as critic of the law as he wants, but he’s not entitled to conjure phony facts out of thin air.

Four Pinocchios

 


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Update:  In response to this column, Huelskamp  released the following:

Fact #1:  Obama’s own Census Bureau reports that in 2010, 349,745 persons were uninsured in Kansas.  The same report, for the last year they provide data, admits 358,399 were uninsured.  This is an increase of approximately 8,000 uninsured Kansans. (Note from the Fact Checker: This is a slightly different Census document than cited above but even this document says the percentage of the uninsured remained unchanged from 2010 to 2012–12.6 percent. The health-care law did not get fully implemented until 2013.)

Fact #2:  This increase in the number of uninsured Kansas takes place despite adding 111,000 additional persons to government healthcare programs.

Fact #3:  The “Fact Checker” fails to reveal that he is relying on a former Medicaid Director in the Sebelius gubernatorial administration in his editorial. (Note from The Fact Checker: He was only quoted talking about data. We went to him because Huelskamp’s staff  refused to answer questions about the data.)

Fact #4:  The Obama Administration refuses to release any numbers of individuals who have enrolled in ObamaCare and actually paid their premiums, nor the numbers of Kansans who lost the health insurance plan that Obama promised they could keep, nor the number of Kansans who have seen significant increases in their premiums, their deductibles, lost access to the doctor they like, or any combination thereof.

Fact #5:  Based on newspaper readership, fewer and fewer Americans trust the mainstream media or their “fact-checking.”  This latest editorial is likely another reason why the Washington Post has seen a decline of 14 percent decline in their readership.

 

Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. He would like your help in keeping an eye on public figures. Send him statements to fact check by emailing him, tweeting at him, or sending him a message on Facebook.
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