Politico's Nather: Obama Can 'Spike the Football' Because Obamacare 'Is Beating Expectations'

David Nather at the Politico apparently wanted to make sure that those who don't follow the news closely see a triumphant headline ("Obama Spikes the Football") and a congratulatory opening paragraph at their computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Sure, the Politico reporter gradually threw in all kinds of qualifications after that, but his mission is largely accomplished: Cause those who don't click through to believe that Obamacare is functioning as intended, and — especially in the headline — communicate the message that the debate about the statist health regime's existence is really over. He can say that he did his job while at the same time keeping most people away from the more complicated reality. In that sense, Nather is right there with reporters at ABC and CBS who claim without verifiable evidence, as Rich Noyes at NewsBusters noted earlier this afternoon, that the program has achieved "a major milestone." Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):

Obama spikes the football


Finally, President Barack Obama can say his health care law is beating the expectations.

Well, one of them, anyway. It’s safe to say that no one — not even him — predicted that the Obamacare sign-ups would soar as high as 8 million, the figure he announced in an appearance in the White House briefing room Thursday. That number, at least on its face, truly does go beyond the enrollment goals the administration set for itself — and makes the recovery from the website debacle even bigger.

That doesn’t mean the number tells everything the public needs to know about who’s really covered, of course. And not all of Thursday’s numbers beat the expectations — the share of young adults still isn’t ideal, according to some health care experts.

But the final enrollment numbers, along with other recent survey findings, are strong enough to give the Obama administration a cushion against some of the most common criticisms of the enrollment trends.

That "cushion" argument doesn't wash, and Nather himself washed it out in paragraphs most people won't read:

... Obama repeated the new sign-up figure twice so no one missed it: “Eight million people. Eight million people.”

... He felt confident enough to blast the Republicans for their “endless, fruitless repeal votes” and to declare — in a phrase that Republicans are vigorously disputing — that “the repeal debate is and should be over. The Affordable Care Act is working.”

... The numbers still don’t say how many of the 8 million people have paid their premiums, because they’re not officially enrolled until they’ve paid. The best estimates from the insurance industry have suggested that anywhere from 15 percent to 20 percent haven’t paid yet, though at least some of those have been trying and some will likely settle their bills.

The range of "enrollees" who haven't paid is therefore between 1.2 million and 1.6 million. Either number takes you below the original 7 million goal now-former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius bought into as an achievable goal last year.

But we're not done knocking down that enrollment number:

And the numbers still don’t tell us how many of the new customers were uninsured before, and how many were just swapping out one health insurance plan for another.

In fact, the Obama administration didn’t release a full enrollment report on Thursday, as was widely expected

"As expected"? Obviously, David Nather doesn't understand, after over six months of exhibiting such behavior, that the administration will only dole out information if and when it's ready, and the only if and when it supports their cause.

As to the number of newly insured, a post at Hot Air references a Rand Corporation study which "estimated (that) 36% of exchange enrollees (were) previously uninsured." Given that the estimate was before the final enrollment surge, and bravely assuming that every last-minute buyer was a new enrollee, you still subtract at least two million more from Obama's 8 million "enrolled." Nather made no attempt to quantify this problem.

But the administration got what it wanted from Nather: a glowing headline and a celebration of an "achievement." Thanks to his holding the doubts until later paragraphs, they're really not concerned that too many people will see through the hype.

Parting thought I: Never forget that this is a program in which people legally have to enroll to avoid a tax penalty (it was a definite penalty then; thanks to administration waffling, it's now a possible penalty). Perhaps the best question to ask is: What is the program's compliance rate? Given that the Census Bureau has screamed for years that an admittedly inflated (but surely still quite large after corrections) 45-50 million Americans were uninsured, the result is surely a small minority of those who theoretically had to enroll. Original drafts of Obamacare in 2009 called for putting non-enrollees in jail if they didn't pay the individual mandate penalty.

Parting thought II: Obama is spiking the football well before he has gotten into the end zone. Reminder: It’s not a touchdown if you release the ball before the goal line.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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