Republicans Accidentally Debunk Their Own Talking Point on Obamacare 'Discrepancy'

There is a brand new Obamacare fit in the media, egged on by a brand new Republican "investigation". ZOMG the exchanges have 2 million people who have "discrepancies"! Everything is dooooomed!!!!

Here's the skinny on the actual news item: The AP reported Wednesday that a government document provided to it shows that about 2 million people who have received insurance through the health insurance marketplaces have at least one data mismatch between what they provided and government records. The AP also reported that most of the discrepancies are related to income (1.2 million individuals), the rest spread between immigration and citizenship information.

The national media ran with the story as their newest doomsday scenario for Obamacare. Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce Committee are 'investigating' and warning that the problem is oh-so-much-worse than is being reported. And this is where they went too cute by half. Hoping to spread confusion between the number of people affected by the discrepancies and the number of data points with discrepancies (one individual may have more than one discrepancy), they tried to pad the numbers:

An individual can have more than one data problem. Republicans leading the House Energy and Commerce Committee said Wednesday their investigation shows at least 4 million inconsistencies, mostly unresolved. That number was quickly challenged by Rep. Henry Waxman, the Californian who serves as the panel's senior Democrat, who said it includes applications never completed.

4 million inconsistencies, not 4 million people. So you see, technically they are not lying. Brilliantly, they are inflating the problem without having to outright fabricate the numbers. Evil genius, am I right?

Not if you know the total number of data points those 4 million discrepancies come from. It just so happens that CMS Director of Communications Julie Bataille's blog post on the subject - pointed to by many news organizations but none to note this particular part of it - gives us that information:

During the first historic open enrollment, the Health Insurance Marketplace took steps to verify more than 160 million of individual pieces of information submitted by consumers from across the country, consistent with the requirements Congress included in the Affordable Care Act.

Well, this is awkward. The marketplace had more than 160 million data points to verify (as Bataille notes, a typical family applicant had to provide 21 pieces of information), and the Republican's best shot says there are 4 million discrepancies. That is a 2.5% discrepancy rate, stunningly low. Republicans just inadvertently attested to the unquestionable competency of the Obama team.


CMS noted that the vast majority of these cases are being resolved in favor of the consumer, as consumers provide the documentation needed to verify. Bataille also mentioned the aforementioned blog post that the law provides consumers 90 days to submit information, and that most consumers are still within that window.

Of course, with respect to the substance of the doomsday-pedaling, as has been the case with every other media-generated and Right-wing-pushed Obamacare 'scandal', there is nothing there.

Personal data in government records is often not completely up-to-date. People's income change from year-to-year, which mean's the government's record from their tax returns would be outdated. Green card holders become citizens, work and student visa holders gain green cards, people get married and change their last names - all changes that may take some time to be updated in the records. And then of course, there are children who are born and aren't issued a social security number right away.

Given all that, it is an amazing feat that only 2.5% of the data submitted to the exchanges had discrepancies at the end of April - even if you want to trust the Republican numbers.

But I suppose we owe Republicans a note of thanks for letting their cat out of the bag a little too early in order manufacture the next 'scandal'. Without their help, we'd be less able to put the story in context and show that the only real 'news' here is that the media and the GOP are still obsessed with dragging down the Affordable Care Act even after its incredible success.

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