Never mind all that bad news you’ve been hearing about Obamacare: The New York Times is ready to pronounce it a resounding success. In a flashy new piece on its site, the Times has isolated seven metrics that we can use to judge whether the law is working: decreasing the number of uninsured people; providing affordable insurance; improving health outcomes; delivering a functional, convenient health care shopping experience; helping the health care industry; expanding Medicaid; and slowing down health care spending nationally. Taken together, says the Times, these factors show that “the Affordable Care Act has largely succeeded in delivering on President Obama’s main promises.”Here’s a taste, from the section on health outcomes:
The most basic measure, the share of young people without insurance, shows sharp improvement. The share of 19- to 25-year-olds without health insurance declined to 21 percent in the first quarter of this year, from 34 percent in 2010. That is a decline of about four million people. The current uninsured percentage for that age group is the lowest since the National Health Interview Survey — a large federal survey considered to be a gold standard by researchers — started tracking it in 1997 […]A few benefits, however, came early under the law, and some seemed to make a difference. Starting in 2010, the law required that insurance plans cover preventive screenings without charge to patients. One screening that has jumped is the colonoscopy. Screening rates for people with private insurance went from 48 percent in 2010 to 56 percent in 2012, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a health research nonprofit organization that collects data from the majority of health plans in the country.
The article tells us how much the newly insured are using health care, but that begs the question: has the ACA actually improved health outcomes? One of the primary contentions of ACA skeptics is precisely that subsidized health insurance does not necessarily improve the health of the people who use it.The sections on the other six metrics are beset with similar problems. For example, the article correctly notes that the number of uninsured Americans has dropped under the law, but then quickly admits that network restrictions or high co-pays may prevent that insurance from being useful to them.The biggest flaw in the piece, however, is its framing, which suggests that the promises President Obama made at the time of the law’s passage have been fulfilled. Remember how extravagant they were? Obama promised that individuals who liked their current plans could keep them; we all saw how that turned out. The CBO predicted in 2012 that 14 million would be insured under Obamacare in its first year; according to the NYT, somewhere between 8 million to 11 million people have been covered so far. We don’t know enough yet to say whether the actual rate will be on the low end or the high end of the range. Obama promised that the ACA would “cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year”; the NYT offers no evidence showing that promise has been approximated.The list goes on. Whatever individual, incremental improvements the NYT has found to praise Obamacare, the simple fact is that President Obama over-promised and under-delivered.