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7 charts that show what Obamacare critics are getting wrong

Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Monday, I wrote a post titled "A chart that Obamacare's fiercest critics will have trouble explaining." It showed the dramatic decrease in the number of Americans who lack health insurance. Lots of people who read it still had a lot of complaints about Obamacare, and a number wrote in to express their displeasure.

It's fair enough that lots of people really dislike Obamacare — it substantially raises taxes, especially on high-income people, and mostly does so in order to transfer money to low-income people. That is obviously a controversial idea, and offers perfectly adequate grounds for opposition. But this oppositional mindset has led a lot of people to embrace false or misleading ideas about the law. So here is a bigger list — not one but seven charts that I think Obamacare opponents will have a hard time explaining.

As a bonus, at the end I give you a chart that explains why Obamacare haters will probably see no reason to change their minds.

1) This one chart really does matter


Several correspondents claimed it is a meaningless victory for Obamacare fans to tout the declining uninsurance rate. After all, as one reader put it, "If there was a law requiring people to wear hats, then the hatless rate would drop."

That's a fair point, but it's equally fair for Obamacare fans to point out that conservatives genuinely called this into question. Rush Limbaugh said people would never sign upRich Lowry said new sign-ups would crowd out people who already had insurance. The National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative health policy think tank, said a law "enacted to solve the problem of the uninsured in America is more likely to worsen it." Charles Krauthammer, a leading pundit on Fox News and in the Washington Post, said "essentially the same number of uninsured" would be around pre- and post-Obamacare.

Conservatives chose to pick this fight, and they were wrong. Why did they choose to fight on such unfavorable grounds? I have no idea. But they did.

2) People who switched to ACA-compliant plans report lower premiums

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Another set of complaints were along the lines of the correspondent who told me that the new Obamacare policies "are significantly higher in premium or deductible." Another argued that "the previously insured are paying more than double what they were paying before."

Individual experiences vary considerably, but when the Kaiser Family Foundation did a survey of people in the non-group market they found that the people reporting lower premiums actually outnumbered the people reporting higher premiums.

3) The drop in unemployment rate isn't about people giving up on looking for work

(St. Louis Federal Reserve)

In my original post, I said that contrary to predictions that Obamacare would be a job-killer, implementation has been associated with a steady decline in the unemployment rate. Some readers argued that the unemployment rate is misleading because it ignores labor force participation issues. "The better statistic is the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed," wrote one man. "It is higher now than any time since 1978, and explains the 50 million Americans now receiving 'food stamps.'"

It is true that the share of people in the labor force plummeted dramatically in 2008 and 2009. But if you look at recent years, it's simply not the case that declining unemployment has been driven by labor force dropouts. On the contrary, the employment-population ratio has risen since Obamacare passed in early 2010.

4) Wait times are modest

One reader said I should confront the issue of "longer wait times" induced by the surge in new people with insurance. Here, though, the evidence suggests that most newly insured people are enjoying very reasonable wait times to see a doctor.

5) The part-time recovery is a myth

Another common concern is that since Obamacare passed, "the job creation is from part-time jobs," and that employers may have been cutting hours to comply with new Obamacare regulations, with many offering no insurance for less than the required hours.

The truth, however, is that the ratio of full-time to part-time workers has been rising, not falling.

6) It's more than Medicaid


Another correspondent wrote that my numbers are misleading because the insurance gains are mostly about Medicaid expansion. It is true that expanding the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid coverage is a big deal, but thanks to state-level Republican opposition and the Supreme Court, this has actually accounted for less of the coverage gain than the architects of Obamacare expected.

As this chart above from the Department of Health and Human Services shows, millions of people have obtained insurance through the new exchanges rather than through Medicaid.

7) Premiums aren't surging for the rest of us

(Kaiser Foundation)

Last but by no means least, several people wrote in to argue that whatever Obamacare had done for its direct beneficiaries, it has proven to be unacceptably costly for people with traditional job-based insurance. The newly insured, to quote one emailer, have been "insured at the expense of others."

This is a tricky one, since it's certainly true that premiums have been rising since Obamacare implementation began. They've also been rising if you measure from when Obamacare passed. Or from when Obama took office. The problem, as Jeffrey Young has written, is that premiums have been going up steadily pretty much no matter how far back you look. The Kaiser chart above does a good job of illustrating the long-term trend.

8) Obamacare is a really big tax increase

(Incidental Economist)

The Obamacare debate would be in many ways more productive if conservatives spent less time raising red herrings and more time focusing on one huge reason why they will never like this program — it's a gigantic tax increase. Not the biggest tax increase in history, as some opponents like to claim, but a really big one.

And this is a really big deal. "There are parts that I like such as cancer patients can't lose their insurance and pre-existing conditions are history," one emailer told me, but "I don't like the taxes."

Unfortunately, the good stuff and the bad taxes are inseparable. The law is a three-legged stool. The ban on discriminating against people with preexisting conditions only works if you require everyone to join the insurance risk pool. And the mandate that everyone obtain health insurance only makes sense if subsidies are available to make it universally affordable. Subsidies cost money, and that means taxes — taxes that lots of people don't like.

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