Maybe it’s Paul Krugman who’s lying about Obamacare

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Paul Krugman says the opponents of the Affordable Care Act are liars. According to Mr. Krugman, “To understand the lies, you first have to understand the truth. How would ObamaRomneycare change American healthcare?  For most people the answer is, not at all. In particular, those receiving good health benefits from employers would keep them” (emphasis added).

I don’t wish to put words into Mr. Krugman’s mouth, but this claim sounds remarkably similar to President Obama’s oft-repeated promise “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan.” But even at the time it was uttered in August 2009, PolitiFact.com scored this claim as only half true. When pressed on this promise, President Obama gave a lengthy answer that PolitiFact summarized as follows: “Obama’s saying that the government will not force employers to change their health plans.” That was then, this is now. What we know now that the law has actually been passed and some of the regulations have been written, is that President Obama’s 2009 assertion is factually false.

One can quibble over whether the president was lying when he made this claim (which implies knowingly stating a falsehood) or was merely mistaken in guessing the contents of the final bill and attendant regulations. But for Mr. Krugman to, in essence, repeat this claim in 2012 is a flagrant falsehood. If Mr. Krugman is so ignorant of the projected effects of the Affordable Care Act, as codified in official estimates issued by the Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare actuary, and the regulations issued by the Obama administration himself, then he has no business pontificating about the “truth” of the Affordable Care Act on the pages of the New York Times. If he is aware of these projected impacts, then an impartial observer might be forgiven for concluding that he is lying. You be the judge.

Millions of Americans will be adversely affected by Obamacare, such as the 7.4 million elderly individuals who will lose their Medicare Advantage Plans by 2017, according to the Medicare actuary. But let me focus only on employer-based coverage, since that is where Mr. Krugman makes his most concrete (i.e., empirically testable) claim. If you like your current health plan, can you keep it? To borrow a phrase from Mr. Krugman, “For most people the answer is, not at all.” This, of course, is the precise opposite of what Mr. Krugman and the president have asserted. They would have you believe that most of the 169 million Americans with employer-based health coverage will be able to keep their current coverage (if they like it). Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, every single health plan in America, even those that are “grandfathered” from having to comply with the thicket of Obamacare regulations, has been forced to make changes in coverage. These include prohibition of pre-existing condition exclusions, prohibition on excessive waiting periods, no lifetime or annual limits, and prohibition on rescissions, each of which will add to the premium cost of insurance (if such provisions were cost-free, employers would have added them years ago).

Second, federal regulators have projected that only one in three small employers (under 100 employees) and half of large employers will remain grandfathered by 2013. In short, official government figures explicitly acknowledge that more than half of all employees will not be able to keep their current coverage. The grandfathering rules are far too strict to allow this. Worse, the regulators further concede that as few as one in five small employers and one in three large employers might qualify for grandfathered plan status under the rules they have issued. In that case, more than two-thirds of workers will have lost their current coverage by 2013.

Finally, looking beyond 2013, the restrictions on grandfathered plans are sufficiently binding that proponents of the ACA fully concede that “eventually, if the ACA remains in effect, grandfathered plans will disappear.” Knowing all this, do you feel confident in your ability to keep your current coverage? More to the point, does a claim that ObamaRomneycare will not change American healthcare for “most” people sound even remotely truthful?

Paul Krugman has no monopoly on deceptiveness when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. Just this week, Jonathan Tobin has observed: ‎”President Obama’s willingness to falsify the facts about a personal tragedy in order to make a political point speaks volumes about not only his cynicism but also his character. It’s important to remember that this is no misunderstanding but rather a bald-faced lie.”

But perhaps Mr. Krugman could set an example to which his students and readers could aspire.

Mr. Krugman, lying in the public square is despicable, inexcusable behavior. Please stop.

Christopher J. Conover is a research scholar at Duke University’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, an adjunct scholar at AEI and affiliated senior scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His new book American Health Economy Illustrated, was released in February 2012 by AEI Press.

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