Lies, Damned Lies and Bogus Statistics

On Obamacare (and much else), blindly loyal Democrats and Republicans fall victim to "false purity."

Rob Lever Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, New York Times columnist, and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize winner in Economics, Paul Krugman, delivers remarks on February 11, 2009 at the Institute for America's Future 'Thinking Big, Thinking Forward' conference on America's economic future at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC. (National Journal)

Paul Krugman is half right. The New York Times columnist and Princeton University economics professor, winner of the Nobel Prize in 2008, published another strong condemnation Monday of House Republicans "“ this one justifiably calling their Affordable Care Act report "deliberately misleading."

Mainstream politicians didn't always try to advance their agenda through lies, damned lies and — in this case — bogus statistics. And the fact that this has become standard operating procedure for a major party bodes ill for America's future

At issue is a House Republican survey that concluded only 67 percent of enrollees had paid their first premium, raising questions about the relevance of White House reports that more than 8 million Americans obtained health insurance through Obamacare. Krugman accurately called the GOP survey "rigged."

It asked insurers how many enrollees had paid their first premium; it ignored the fact that the first premium wasn't even due for the millions of people who signed up for insurance after March 15.

And the fact that the survey was so transparently rigged is a smoking gun, proving that the attacks on Obamacare aren't just bogus; they're deliberately bogus. The staffers who set up that survey knew enough about the numbers to skew them, which meant that they have to have known that Obamacare is actually doing O.K.

But the columnist undermines his argument by leaving out important context: His friends at the White House skew the truth, too.

The GOP would have no excuse to release a biased survey had the White House bothered to conduct one of its own. Instead, the Obama administration has insisted beyond the limits of plausibility that it cannot obtain paid-policy numbers from insurance companies. They must think we're pretty stupid. You don't have to be a Nobel Prize winner to know that the White House can call insurance companies as easily as congressional staff. This lack of transparency (from what President Obama promised would be the most transparent administration in U.S. history) undercuts the administration's "8-million-enrolled" victory lap.

The White House keeps changing the enrollment goals, including the percentage of young Americans required to make the marketplace math work. They must think we're too blind to see a goalposts shift. You don't need to be a Princeton economist to know that the 8 milllion net figure, while laudable, is not as important as the demographic mix.

And let's not forget the ultimate fabrication, ""If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too."

I can hear the blowback already: "False Equivalence!" Well, no; I'm not arguing that GOP skewing is equal to the Democratic skewing. That would be stupid. But what makes even less sense is thinking that the Democratic Party will thrive in the years ahead by lying and spinning a bit less than the GOP. There is no pride in being the least-worst party.

Like Krugman, I want the ACA to work. We need to solve our crisis of the uninsured and bend the cost curve without undermining the choice and innovation that make the U.S. health care system unique. While most Americans agree with those goals and object to the GOP demand to repeal Obamacare, they are not sold on the program so far. A new Washington Post-ABC poll shows that the Obamacare debate is not over:

  • By a two-to-one margin, more people think the quality of care they receive is getting worse rather than better under Obamacare (29 percent to 14 percent). A majority says the quality has stayed the same.
  • By a two-to-one margin, more people think the nation's health care system is getting worse, not better (44 percent to 24 percent). Less than a third say the quality of U.S. health care is about the same.
  • Nearly half of Americans say their personal health care costs are increasing under Obamacare (47 percent). Just 8 percent report decreases.
  • A strong majority say the overall costs of the U.S. health care system are increasing (58 percent). Just 11 percent see decreases.

Krugman blames the GOP for the public's skepticism, channeling the White House persecution complex.

So Republicans are spreading disinformation about health reform because it works, and because they can — there is no sign that they pay any political price when their accusations are proved false.

And that observation should scare you. What happens to the Congressional Budget Office if a party that has learned that lying about numbers works takes full control of Congress? What happens if it regains the White House, too? Nothing good, that's for sure.

Thank God for people as smart as Krugman who can expose GOP spin for the rest of us dolts. But who on the Left will keep the White House honest? Maybe there needs to be a course at Princeton called "False Purity," exposing the lie that gridlock, incompetence and plummeting credibility in Washington are the creation of a single party.

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