NPR Hides the Cost of Obamacare

NPR Hides the Cost of Obamacare

National Public Radio’s Scott Horsley continued his cheerleading for President Barack Obama with a story Wednesday about the president’s latest attempt to promote Obamacare to a highly skeptical public. Horsley allowed Obama’s claims about the cost of Obamacare premiums to stand unchallenged, though that cost–not advertising campaigns by the law’s opponents, as Obama claims–is the obstacle to Obamacare’s success.

Horsley quotes the president: “Obama is trying to make the argument that signing up is a good deal: ‘In many states across the country, if you’re say a 27-year-old young woman, don’t have health insurance, you get on that exchange, you’re going to be able to purchase high-quality health insurance for less than the cost of your cell phone bill.'” He provides no facts listeners might use to evaluate the truth–or not–of that claim.

It turns out that Obama’s cost claims are highly misleading, in three basic ways. First, while some premium costs might be less than “expected,” they are far higher than the cost of health insurance before Obamacare. The cheapest Obamacare premium for that 27-year-old woman is $163. Without Obamacare, that same 27-year-old could buy monthly insurance with a modest deductible for about $60–roughly a third as much.

Second, the only way Obamacare is cheaper than the cost of a cell phone bill is if you compare the cheapest Obamacare plan with the most expensive cell phone plan. A basic cell phone plan–including talk, text, and data–runs about $50. An unlimited plan can run in excess of $200. Few young people would consider that “cheap”–particularly at a time when unemployment among young people is very high.

Third, health insurance and cell phones are not substitute goods. Obama is asking young people to pay for high Obamacare premiums in addition to their other expenses, not instead of them. That might seem reasonable to a man who has never really balanced a family budget, let alone a federal one (the Obamas lived beyond their means until quite recently). It is unreasonable even for high-earning young Americans.

Horsley does cite Republican opposition to Obamacare, but only in the most general terms, leaving the impression that all Democrats really want is health care for everyone, and all Republicans want is to say “no.” (Notably, even President Obama has dropped the pretense of differentiating between Obamacare and “universal health care,” which Democrats now admit openly is where they want the legislation to lead.)

In his story, Horsely quotes Clinton: “This only works, for example, if young people show up,” said Clinton. “We’ve got to have them in the pools. Because otherwise all these projected low costs cannot be held if older people with pre-existing conditions are disproportionately represented in any given state.” That is a subtle admission that Obamacare imposes new costs on the young–but Horsely does not bother to point that out.

The fact that Obamacare must now rely on political exhortation, rather than competitive pricing, to entice young people to subsidize the system is a searing indictment of a failed policy. Even the law’s high, much-touted provision for pre-existing conditions barely attracted 25% of the expected enrollment. Horsley omits any basis for judging Obama’s claims. After the exchanges open Oct. 1, there will be no hiding the truth.