Thursday, May 08, 2014

Reporters read insurance execs' testimony before yesterday's House ACA hearing. Looks like GOP reps didn't

Last week, the House Energy & Commerce Committee put out a mendacious report claiming that insurance company executives had submitted data to them showing that just two thirds of ACA private plan enrollees had paid their first month's premium. ACA signups tracker Charles Gaba shot that rotten fish in a barrel within an hour of the report's release:.
...they're VERY clear about what they're claiming: that as of 4/15/14, only 67% of all QHP enrollments via Healthcare.Gov had paid their first month's premium, right?

Well, there's a serious problem right there, because out of the 8 million or so enrollments as of 4/15, only 5 million of the first month's premiums were even due.

Gaba was the first of many; the claim was widely debunked. That didn't deter the Committee from calling health insurance executives to a May 7 hearing,  presumably to ratify their statistical legerdemain.  Unsurprisingly, the hearing, conducted by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, did not go as planned. Jonathan Bernstein marvels at the manifestation of an apparent feedback loop:
But yesterday, a House subcommittee invited insurance company executives to testify and, according to the Hill, Republicans on the panel were “visibly exasperated, as insurers failed to confirm certain claims about ObamaCare, such as the committee's allegation that one-third of federal exchange enrollees have not paid their first premium.”

We don’t have to rely on reporter interpretations (here’s another one). It made no sense to hold the hearing unless Republicans were (foolishly) confident that the testimony would support their talking point, instead of undermining it.

The only plausible explanation is that closed feedback loop. Either members of the committee managed not to be aware of the criticisms of their survey, or they mistakenly wrote off the criticism as partisan backbiting.
Kevin Drum piles on:
Obviously Republicans were caught off guard at yesterday's hearing, and that could only happen if they really and truly believed their own flawed survey. And that, in turn, could only happen if they get pretty much all their information from Fox News and don't bother with anything else. 

The bubble is apparently more airtight even than Bernstein and Drum fathomed, because the executives' prepared testimony had already hit the newswires before the hearing started. Bloomberg's Alex Wayne had the whole gist in a story that ran on Wednesday morning, prior to the hearing:

Three large health insurers including WellPoint Inc. and Aetna Inc. say that a high percentage of their new Obamacare customers are paying their first premiums, undermining a Republican criticism of enrollment in the program. 

As many as 90 percent of WellPoint customers have paid their first premium by its due date, according to testimony the company prepared for a congressional hearing today. For Aetna, the payment is in the “low to mid-80 percent range,” the company said in its own testimony. Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states including Texas, said that number is at least 83 percent.
In fact, the Times' Robert Pear had the testimony on Tuesday. For that matter, way back on March 31, before the extended open enrollment was over, Kathleen Sebelius was relaying essentially identical feedback from insurance executives:
"[Insurance companies] tell us that for their initial customers, it is somewhere between 80 to 85, some say as high as 90 percent have paid so far," Sebelius told News 9's Stan Miller.
House Republicans may enjoy insinuating publicly that nothing Sebelius says can be trusted. But they also apparently believe that she is as mendacious as they are.

Wayne's Bloomberg story, by the way, was a case study in how to report without editorializing while allowing one side to expose its mendacity without escaping into he said/she said equivalence.  Wayne led off with the gist of the insurance execs' prepared testimony cited above, then followed it up with quotes by two well-respected experts punching further holes in the Energy Committee's claims:
 “What you have here is very solid first year enrollment, no matter how you slice it,” Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a Washington consulting firm, said in a phone interview. “This thing is, at this point, well entrenched....

“That was just foolishness on the part of the committee to even publish that number because it was completely out of context,” Bob Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant in Alexandria, Virginia, said in a phone interview. 
Laszewski's take carries all the more weight because he is a relentless critic of the ACA -- though also not averse to criticizing Republicans.

Only after that triple debunk did Wayne turn to committee chair Fred Upton to spin his pre-discredited hearing:
 “After months of excuses, we took the administration’s advice and asked the insurance providers themselves for basic enrollment figures,” Fred Upton, the chairman of the committee, said in an e-mail from a spokeswoman. “Tomorrow’s hearing will allow us to further explore the status of implementation and provide greater transparency and certainty moving forward.” 
Well-sequenced, Wayne.

1 comment:

  1. Entirely rational, on the part of the GOP reps, is it not?

    If they fail to show enough anti-Obama spirit, they risk losing a primary. (Ask Bob Inglis). And there's no downside to looking stupid. Sure, people like me who read your blog will know; but there's no reason to think that there's enough of us to affect elections. (Particularly mid-term elections, which I'm under the impression are mostly a game of turning out your base).

    So why wouldn't they act like this? Why would they ever read anything from outside the bubble? What's the advantage?