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The real story behind the statistic Trump just used to attack Obamacare

On Twitter, of course.

Trump pointing to his own head in front of an American flag. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

President Donald Trump has been telling anyone who will listen that Obamacare is failing — dead, even — as congressional Republicans have struggled in fits and starts to repeal and replace the health care law.

He’s even deploying what are — whether he knows it or not — relatively mundane factoids, twisting them to fit his narrative of a foundering law.

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that 2 million people “just dropped out of ObamaCare.”

This appears to be a reference to a report from the Trump administration on Monday, which said that nearly 2 million people had not paid a premium for the Obamacare plan that they’d purchased for 2017 and therefore weren’t actually covered. Per the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 10.3 million of the 12.2 million people who had enrolled in a plan actually paid their premium.

That might sound bad. But it’s also completely normal, based on the past few years of experience under Obamacare.

You will never have 100 percent of people make their monthly payments for something — that is true about much more than health insurance and was true before Obamacare.

Last year, about 87 percent of people who signed up for Obamacare plans ended up paying their premiums. This year’s figure is a little lower — 84 percent — but that is not much more than a statistical error.

“This is not a new phenomenon,” Larry Levitt at the Kaiser Family Foundation told me. “It’s just new spin.”

It also fits with a broader pattern in Trump’s attacks on Obamacare. He either takes facts out of context to assault the law or ignores his administration’s own role in fostering uncertainty, which has helped destabilize some markets.

The Trump administration has repeatedly touted health plans dropping out of the Obamacare markets as evidence of the law’s failure, like when Anthem announced it would no longer sell plans in Ohio.

“This news is heartbreaking for the millions of Ohioans who depend on access to affordable, high-quality healthcare, and this is a stark reminder that Obamacare is collapsing,” Alleigh Marré, a spokesperson for Department of the Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

But Anthem blamed the Trump administration, at least in part, for its decision to drop out. Trump has taken crucial Obamacare subsidies hostage, refusing to say if the payments will continue or not. Insurers rely on these subsidies, and not knowing if they will be paid has created a lot of uncertainty.

From the company’s statement (emphasis mine):

The Ohio Individual market remains volatile and the lack of certainty of funding for cost sharing reduction subsidies, the restoration of taxes on fully insured coverage and, an increasing lack of overall predictability simply does not provide a sustainable path forward to provide affordable plan choices for consumers.

Obamacare has real problems, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff reviewed recently. But the statistic Trump tried to exploit Tuesday isn’t one of them.

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