It’s no secret that the brain trust behind former President Obama’s ironically-named Affordable Care Act likes to tout falling numbers of Americans living without health insurance as a glossy way of proving the law’s success. While President Donald Trump and the GOP haggle over the details (and timeline) of repealing and replacing Obamacare, proponents of the law – including Nancy Pelosi, who thinks scrapping the program will "#MakeAmericaSickAgain" – point to rising numbers of recently-insured Americans as proof that America needs Obamacare.
But while a snazzy hashtag might catch the public’s attention on Twitter, the numbers don’t lie.
A new Gallup report released Wednesday shows that the top 10 states who’ve seen the most dramatic drops in uninsured rates have also expanded Medicaid – meaning the vast numbers of people now hooked up to a health insurance plan didn’t get there because health insurance became more “affordable,” but rather because taxpayers picked up the pricey bill.
Here's a good example. According to Gallup, Kentucky was the state that saw the highest drop in the number of uninsured residents, plummeting from 20.4 percent in 2013 to just 7.8 percent in 2016 (well below the national uninsured average of 10.6 percent).
But that’s just a small snapshot of a much larger and more concerning story. Total Medicaid spending in Kentucky topped $5.7 billion in 2012, about 30 percent of which (roughly $1.7 billion) was picked up by the state. In fact, Medicaid spending made up about 22.5 percent of the state’s entire budget that year, according to Ballotpedia.
By FY2015, taxpayers were shucking out nearly $9.5 billion in combined spending for Medicaid services in Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Kentuckians who’d purchased health insurance on the state marketplace saw their insurance premiums rise as much as 47 percent heading into this year. In fact, 10 companies that offered plans on Kentucky’s exchange raised their rates to offset falling profits.
Likewise, while New Mexico saw its uninsured population drop from 20 percent in 2013 to just 9 percent in 2016, the state’s combined Medicaid spending rise from about $3.4 billion in 2012 to nearly $5 billion in FY2015.
At the same time, Obamacare premiums in Mew Mexico skyrocketed an average of 39 percent heading in 2017, with some New Mexicans facing a 93 percent increase for their plans from Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico. Many of these costly plans also come along wtih sky-high deductibles that make them practically useless, causing many people to avoid health care they'd otherwise seek to avoid paying out-of-pocket costs on top of their insurance premiums (although we're pretty sure Pelosi isn't including them in that lump of sick people she's super concerned about).
Even Gallup noted that states that didn't expand Medicaid saw a much smaller reduction in their uninsured population post-Obamacare. The polling agency expressly noted:
Of the 11 states with the smallest reductions, six have not expanded Medicaid. Among these 11, the states that have expanded Medicaid -- Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Delaware and Minnesota -- were already among the states with the lowest uninsured rates in the nation in 2013 and therefore had the least room for improvement.
Of course, even this analysis doesn't account for all the non-Medicaid people who bought insurance plans thanks to the federal gun now pointed at their craniums, a group of unlucky folks who make up a whole other subset of Obamacare's touted success pool.
Simply put: pointing to higher numbers of insured Americans paints a remarkably deceptive picture of Obamacare’s “success,” a simple and unavoidable fact that no hashtag or stump speech is going to change.