(Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

“President Obama told the American people that under Obamacare the average family’s premium would drop $2,500. In fact, the average family’s premiums have risen $3,000. Now, Chris [Wallace], if you’re a single mom, if you’re struggling to feed your kids, $5,500, that is real money that you can’t provide for your family.”

— Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), interview on Fox News Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016

Oh my, this tired old talking point again. A version of this claim was first made in the 2012 campaign. And yet it keeps popping up, presumably because it sounds like such a delicious talking point.

But four years later, it still isn’t right. So, once again, here’s why this is nonsense math.

The Facts

This story starts with a misleading claim made by then-Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning for the presidency in 2008 — which should be a lesson to today’s would-be presidents about making false statements during a campaign.

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). Moreover, there was no guarantee that any cost savings would be passed on to consumers; it could just be pocketed by insurance companies.

But apparently no one ever forgets these pledges.

The health-care plan that emerged from Congress was significantly different from Obama’s campaign proposal. Yet the White House in 2011 offered a reestimate 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 a 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.)

Okay, we have stipulated that Obama started this with his bogus, asterisk-laden pledge. But then Cruz, as many other Republicans before him, compares that pledge to the growth in employer-based premiums, derived from a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

The 2015 survey shows that the average annual premium for family coverage was $17,545 in 2015. Premiums thus have gone up $3,775 since 2010 — when the law was passed — or $1,800 since 2012, when the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented. Cruz says $3,000, which may have been an old talking point. (In 2013, the GOP claim was that premiums had gone up $3,000 since Obama took office.)

But a key point of the Kaiser report is that average premiums have risen at a remarkably low rate — 4 percent in 2015 — in recent years. “Even with these new requirements [from the Affordable Care Act], most market fundamentals have stayed consistent with prior trends, suggesting that the implementation [of the law] has not caused significant disruption for most market participants,” the report said.

Still, the report makes the case that while premium growth has slowed, the cost of deductibles has soared.

Finally, Cruz then combines both the Obama “promise” and the increase in premiums to suggest that a “single mom” is struggling under a burden of $5,500 that the law has taken away from her — which is quite a non sequitur.

The Cruz campaign did not respond to queries.

The Pinocchio Test

We realize the temptation is great for Republicans to keep citing this ridiculous Obama promise — even though the pledge was imprecisely stated and called out by fact checkers at the time. Moreover, the law that emerged from Congress was different from the Obama campaign plan. Note that Cruz says “President Obama told the American people.” But in reality, it was not a pledge made during his presidency.

But it’s doubly absurd to combine the old campaign pledge with increases in health-care premiums —which overall have grown at historically low rates during Obama’s presidency. Whether that is because of the law is certainly subject to debate, but creating an imaginary burden is not.

Three Pinocchios

 


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