Care Goggles

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on October 27, 2016

Care Goggles

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Care Goggles
Thinking of signing up for ObamaCare? You’re better off spending your money on beer, says Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini. “As the rates rise, the healthier people pull out because the out-of-pocket costs aren’t worth it,” Bertolini tells Bloomberg. “Young people can do the math. Gas for the car, beer on Fridays and Saturdays, health insurance.” More:

Premiums for health plans sold to individuals under the ACA, known as Obamacare, are going up by about 25 percent on average for next year. Bertolini said that as costs rise, more individuals will decide not to buy health plans. That’ll push premiums even higher, unless a new president and lawmakers can find fixes for the new markets created by the 2010 health law.

“What happens is the population gets sicker and sicker and sicker and sicker,” Bertolini said. “The rates keep rising to try and catch it. It’s a fruitless chase, and ultimately you end up with a very bad pool of risk.”

Isn’t it refreshing to have a little truth in advertising for a change? Here we have a CEO of a company straightforwardly telling consumers that his product isn’t worth buying. Buy beer, instead, he says—and Aetna is not in the adult-beverage business.

OK, that overstates the case. As the Bloomberg piece notes, Bertolini’s comments are less a warning against Aetna’s (and its competitors’) shoddy product than an explanation as to why the company is dramatically reducing its offerings:

Aetna itself is largely ending sales of ACA plans, because it’s recording hundreds of millions of dollars of losses on the policies. The insurer will offer individual coverage on the ACA’s exchanges in four states for next year, down from 15.

ACA stands for Affordable Care Act, itself a short form of ObamaCare’s Orwellian official name, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Bertolini would like Congress to “make changes to the market,” in Bloomberg’s words, to allow his company to re-enter the market and turn a profit.

Still, Bertolini is a truth-teller by the standard of ObamaCare, a massive consumer fraud marketed under the slogan “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” Whereas a corporate executive who told a lie as brazen as that would be at serious risk of prison, when the country’s CEO tells a “political” lie, he faces little by way of accountability—including from the news media, which advertise themselves as advocates for the public interest answering power with truth.

“Here’s one reason Obamacare’s marketplaces are struggling,” writes Sarah Kliff at the liberal young-adult website Vox: “They’re less than half as large as we thought they would be.” For illiterate or easily confused young adults, that observation is illustrated by “one chart” featuring a blue bar, representing ObamaCare sales, overlaid on the outline of a bigger bar, representing hoped-for ObamaCare sales.

So ObamaCare is failing because people aren’t buying what it’s selling. That’s not an explanation, it’s a tautology. For an analogy, consider this New York Times story about Donald Trump’s recent difficulties in his hotel business:

The hotel [Trump International in Washington] opened in September, and it has struggled with slashed room rates and a lack of bookings for major holiday parties, according to reports. Mr. Trump denied those reports.

The Times piece suggests Trump’s business is suffering because the controversies of the presidential campaign have harmed his commercial brand. The Kliff approach would be to beg the question and “explain” that Trump International has suffered from a lack of bookings because people haven’t been booking rooms there.

If fraudulent marketing is unsuccessful, there’s always coercion. Kliff also argues—again “in one chart”—that “ObamaCare’s mandate isn’t strong enough.” Imagine if Trump proposed dealing with his hotel’s difficulties by punishing holidaymakers who refuse to stay there.

Vox is an avowedly, or at least self-evidently, liberal-left-progressive outlet. But purportedly nonpartisan media organizations have also engaged in boosterism for the fraud that is ObamaCare. In March 2012, the Senate Republican Conference put out a video called “ObamaCare: Broken Promises,” which said “that while President Barack Obama promised to ‘work with your employer to lower your premiums by $2,500 per family per year,’ his health care law ‘raises premiums in the individual market by $2,100 per family.’ ”

PolitiFact acknowledged that “the number does come from a Congressional Budget Office analysis, and it’s phrased accurately.” It nonetheless rated the statement “mostly false” on the ground that “it’s stripped of crucial context and distorts the truth.”

In July of the same year, Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott, citing the same CBO report, said “if you’re going to buy your own policy with these (health care) exchanges you’ll be paying 10% more . . . about $2,100 more for a family.” Again, PolitiFact said “mostly false”—this time because “what he doesn’t say is that these policies will have to offer comprehensive coverage. So people will pay more, but they’re also get more benefits.”

They were still at it in April 2015, when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said that during the Obama years, “the average cost of family health care premiums has increased by $4,154.” PolitiFact acknowledged “the figure is correct when comparing 2008 to 2014.” But still it said “mostly false,” claiming Walker should have used 2009 as his baseline (which would have yielded an increase of $3,459)

Later last year the fact-checkers showed signs of catching up to reality. In October 2015 Trump asserted that, “because of Obamacare ‘people’s premiums . . . are going up 35%, 45%, 55%.’ ” PolitiFact rated that statement “half true”—but what does that even mean? That they’re actually going up 17.5%, 22.5%, 27.5%? Or 70%, 90%, 110%?

It’s a familiar pattern. PolitiFact’s 2013 “Lie of the Year” was the central ObamaCare fraud: “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” As this column noted at the time, the site had previously certified the promise as “true” (2008), then equivocated and labeled it “half true” in both 2009 and 2012.

Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, but “fact checkers” think they’re entitled to call their own opinions facts. As the president perpetrated a fraud on American consumers, journalists have often helped him along. They would never dream of doing the same for an unscrupulous CEO of, say, a beer company.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.