Why? It is because politicians have concluded that the claim in some way motivates voters, and that fact far outweighs the consequences of repeating a false claim.
We also have often found that the more complex an issue, the more likely it will be subject to a false claim. That’s certainly the case with health care, where both parties have played games with the numbers.
This statement by former Florida governor Jeb Bush is a particularly instructive example. It started with a misleading claim by then-Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning for the presidency in 2008. It then has morphed into a recurring GOP claim that has repeatedly been proved false by The Fact Checker, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact. And yet here it is again.
We’re not going to give up. Time for a refresher course!
Let’s start with Obama’s $2,500 promise. At least 19 times during the 2008 campaign, according to a video circulated by GOP lawmakers, Obama claimed that his health-care plan would reduce “premiums by as much as $2,500 per family.”
The specifics were laid out in an Obama campaign memo, which called the $2,500 figure a “best-guess” assumption.
But Obama’s pledge came with a very large asterisk: He was not saying premiums would fall by $2,500, but that health-care costs per family would be that much lower than anticipated. In other words, if overall costs — not just premiums — were expected to rise by $5,000 by 2012, they would only rise by $2,500. We should note that Obama was not especially clear about that aspect of the estimate — and as shown in the video he frequently misstated it.
When Obama made this claim in 2008, he was quickly called out by fact checkers. The Fact Checker awarded Obama Two Pinocchios for the pledge, saying that it was based on shaky assumptions (such as a Rand Corp. study that was criticized by the Congressional Budget Office) and that there was no guarantee any cost savings would be passed on to consumers.
But no one ever forgets these pledges, neither the Republicans nor the Obama White House.
The health-care plan that emerged from Congress was significantly different than Obama’s campaign proposal. Yet the White House in 2011 offered a re-estimate that the plan would yield $2,000 in savings by 2019. In 2014, Obama even began to claim that “the average premium for family coverage today would be $1,800 higher” if not for his health-care plan — a statement that also yielded Pinocchios. (It is very difficult, even at this date, to determine how much the slowdown in health-care costs is attributable to the Affordable Care Act. The Great Recession resulted in a general slowdown in health-care costs around the globe.)
But Bush, like previous Republicans who have tried to make this argument, stumbles because he is comparing Obama’s pledge with something different — actual projected increases in premiums. As we noted, Obama’s campaign pledged to reduce the rate of growth for health-care costs, not an actual cut in premiums.
A Bush spokesman said he was relying on a recent projection from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that private insurance premiums will rise by nearly $2,900 per enrollee by 2024. That’s also different than the Obama estimate, because that was per family. (Other Republicans, in making a similar claim, have been careful to cite increases in family premiums to date, so Bush is being especially sloppy here.)
Health costs have climbed every year and were always expected to increase; the question was whether the Affordable Care Act would slow the rate of growth in premiums. During Obama’s presidency, the United States has experienced unusually low rates of growth in health-care premiums, about 5 percent per year, almost half the pre-recession rate.
The CMS analysis says that premiums per enrollee will increase 5.4 percent in 2014, in part because of the expansion of health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. (An unrelated factor is expensive new prescription-drug treatments for hepatitis C.) But the increase would drop to an annual rate of 4.1 percent in 2018 in part because of other Obamacare provisions. Eventually, more robust economic growth will help boost premiums by about 5.8 percent per year over the nine-year period studied in the report. But, the increases are still “expected to be substantially lower than the average rates that were observed in the three decades prior to the recession,” the analysis said.
To put it in perspective, if the pre-recession growth rates were in place between 2014 and 2024, then per enrollee premiums would be at least $3,500 higher in 2024 than projected by CMS.
The Pinocchio Test
Let us stipulate once again that Obama’s 2008 pledge was a silly promise, often sloppily stated. But that does not excuse Republican efforts to mischaracterize the pledge — and then compare it to a misleading metric.
Bush in this instance does not even bother to use per-family premiums or even what has happened so far under the law, but chooses a projection far in the future. That makes the comparison even more misleading.
Given that health costs have grown at historically low rates during Obama’s presidency, it’s really time to retire this deceptive talking point. In the meantime, Bush earns Three Pinocchios.
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