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Michael Hiltzik
Column

Tell me again how Obamacare is a 'disaster'

Conservative attacks on the Affordable Care Act long ago took on the qualities of reflexive, empty rhetoric, of the "say it enough and people will believe it" variety.

As it happens, a couple of statistical releases from the U.S. government give the lie to the most persistent attacks. More on those in a moment.

During their debate Thursday night, the Republican presidential aspirants took their obligatory shots at Obamacare. Ted Cruz tipped his hat to the "the single moms who are working two and three jobs, 28, 29 hours a week because their hours have been forcibly reduced because of Obamacare," which he called "the biggest job-killer in America." He promised to "repeal every word," a pledge echoed by Marco Rubio.

Earlier in the day, Donald Trump released his own healthcare plan, taking a swipe at "the incredible economic burden" of the Affordable Care Act. His proposal turned out to be largely a rehash of Republican shibboleths such as allowing the sale of policies across state lines, elimination of the individual mandate, and expansion of health savings accounts, the tax benefits of which flow disproportionately to the rich. Nothing in it supports his promise to protect people with preexisting conditions; on its face, it would leave them in the lurch.  

Now for what the Affordable Care Act actually has achieved.

As the Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday, "20 million uninsured adults have gained health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act as of early 2016." The figure includes 17.7 million who gained coverage via the insurance exchanges or Medicaid, and 2.3 million young adults age 19 to 25 who were able to remain on a parent's plan up to age 26.

The overall uninsured rate has been cut by nearly half, from 20.3% in 2012 to 11.5% now. The trend includes every ethnic group and both genders; for whites and non-Hispanic blacks, the reduction in the uninsured rate exceeds 50%, and for Hispanics the rate has come down from 41.8% to 30.5%.

What about the employment effect cited by Cruz? It's not visible in the real numbers. Since the Affordable Care Act was signed on March 23, 2010, full-time employment growth has been strong and the number of people employed part-time for economic reasons has consistently fallen.  

Meanwhile, total employment has consistently risen. In February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, the economy added 242,000 jobs. "Premiums have stayed steady and the total program cost is under budget," blogger Kevin Drum observed. "If this is a disaster, we could use a few more disasters like it. " 

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