MSNBC’s Wagner, Klein Wildly Spin Poor ObamaCare Enrollment Numbers

MSNBC personalities continue to do all they can to put a happy face on the rollout of ObamaCare. On Tuesday’s NOW with Alex Wagner, Ms. Wagner and MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein furiously spun the latest enrollment numbers of “young invincibles.” First off, Klein advised the MSNBC audience not to worry about the presently low enrollment among young people; things will probably get better!

Insisted Klein:

 

[W]e expect, it should be said here, that this is going to be the low point for young adults in the law. Every projection based on what we've seen in the Massachusetts reforms, based on what we saw in Medicare Part D, younger people in these programs, be they younger seniors or actually young adults, they sign up towards the end, not the beginning.
 

But even if young adult enrollment doesn’t increase, according to Klein, it’s not the end of the world. He continued:
 

But let's say [enrollment] froze right here. Right where it is right now, at 25 percent or 24 percent. That would mean a 2.5 percent increase in premiums from where they are now. It’s not great; we shouldn’t be increasing premiums because we didn’t get the risk pool we wanted. But that is not a death spiral.
 

Well, how good to know that premiums might only increase by 2.5 percent. It sounds as though Klein is preemptively defending the administration just in case enrollment doesn’t pick up.

Wagner was excited to point out that the proportion of ObamaCare enrollees who are between the ages of 18 and 34 is currently 24 percent. It’s not a good number, considering that experts believe about 40 percent of enrollees will need to be in that age range in order to offset the cost of care for older, sicker people. But Wagner found the silver lining: today’s 24 percent figure is essentially the same as what the Massachusetts health care law experienced after its first three months in operation. So ObamaCare’s young adult enrollment is on pace with RomneyCare’s young adult enrollment.

 However, after six months, only 24.5 percent of Massachusetts enrollees were young adults. So Wagner needs to hope that ObamaCare can greatly exceed that pace if the law is to get 40 percent of its enrollees to be young adults by the end of March.

Klein then added some spin to make ObamaCare’s young adult enrollment look even better. He proclaimed:
 

I don't even think we're really properly in the third month there. I mean... the numbers we’re looking at here for December, that is really the first month of the law in which healthcare.gov was actually working the whole time. I believe that is 17 percent on the Mass. graph. We're, if anything, ahead of that.
 

So now we’re grading ObamaCare on a curve to account for the fact that the website was a failure at the beginning. But if December was the first month, and not the third, that would mean the law has to make up a lot of ground even more quickly if it is to reach that 40 percent number by the end of March.

Finally, Wagner asserted that this law is good because young adults want to receive its blessings. “People want –  young people want health care, and this rollout seems to prove that point,” she insisted. Not with the current sign-up numbers, it doesn’t prove that point.

Klein attempted to reinforce Wagner’s assertion:
 

I mean, when you offer young people health care in a job setting... young people take it up at almost the same rate as older people.... [A]ll young people, when they’re bargaining for jobs, getting a job with health care is a huge deal. It is like a life milestone.
 

Sadly, jobs with health care benefits are becoming scarcer thanks to onerous taxes and regulations on businesses. Some of those taxes and regulations that are making it too expensive for companies to offer health care, in fact, result from ObamaCare, the very law that Wagner and Klein defend so passionately. How ironic. 

Below is a transcript of the segment:


ALEX WAGNER: Ezra, there are a lot of questions surrounding the success of the ACA as it stands presently. And I wonder, as someone who crunches numbers and knows policy, what are you gleaning from this latest data?

EZRA KLEIN: Well, we can say a couple things. One, there is not going to be a death spiral. Like, that is just done. Early in this process, it was an idea that you would have so few young people sign up and so many older, sicker people sign up that premiums would just go completely chaotic and you would have something called an adverse-selection death spiral, completely destabilizing the law. Not going to happen at all. Let’s say – we expect, it should be said here – that this is going to be the low point for young adults in the law. Every projection based on what we've seen in the Massachusetts reforms, based on what we saw in Medicare Part D, younger people in these programs, be they younger seniors or actually young adults, they sign up towards the end, not the beginning. So we always expect sort of the early ones to have a lower proportion of young people than the months right before the penalty. But let's say it froze right here. Right where it is right now, at 25 percent or 24 percent. That would mean a 2.5 percent increase in premiums from where they are now. It’s not great; we shouldn’t be increasing premiums because we didn’t get the risk pool we wanted. But that is not a death spiral. The big question, as I alluded to a second ago, is what happens in March. If it goes from 24 percent to 35 percent, or even more to the point, to 38 percent, then the Obama administration got the numbers they wanted and to some degree needed. If it sticks at 25 percent, it's survivable for the early years of the law, but it's not by any means optimal.

WAGNER: To the point of the rate at which young invincibles are signing up, we have a chart here that tracks Massachusetts enrollment and as you point out, Ezra, after three months, Massachusetts, 23.6 percent of young people signed up for health care. Which is almost exactly the same as today's number of 24 percent. I suppose one could look at this from a glass half-empty, glass half-full perspective, but given the "D" rating that Zeke Emanuel gave the rollout of the ACA, it's pretty impressive to me that we're tracking basically parallel to Massachusetts’ plan.



KLEIN: I gotta say, I think Zeke is getting soft. He said a “D” for the rollout of the website? That was a solid "F" right there. That was a – when you can't use the website, you are failing. Yeah, I'm really surprised by how much we look to be following the Massachusetts example. And the reason is, too, I don't even think we're really properly in the third month there. I mean, as you said, the month three there is I believe 26 percent. Month one is 17 percent, and the numbers we’re looking at here for December, that is really the first month of the law in which healthcare.gov was actually working the whole time. I believe that is 17 percent on the Mass. graph. We're, if anything, ahead of that. And what makes that amazing is not just that Massachusetts had an easier technical rollout, but that in the state, in the commonwealth, you had political consensus around it, you had ads from the Red Sox. I mean, you had a real sort of ability not just to sign up, but you weren’t getting through all this political friction. Now I do want to say there's a caveat here, right? In all of this when we're talking about Mass. and we’re talking about nationally, we are using young people as a stand-in for healthy people. We are essentially equating them. If it turns out that the people who are signing up are young, 24 percent of them are young, but they're the fraction of the young people who are not healthy, then these sort of normal calculations we're making here don't hold. So I do just want to say that is a caution, that this is really about healthy people, not just about young people. From what we can see on young people, I think this is going a whole lot better than I expected it to be going given how bad the rollout was at this point. But if it turns out these are not the young people we're looking for, then obviously all bets are off.

WAGNER: Right. They’re not young invincibles, they’re just young. One last point, Ezra, and I think this bears repeating. And you wrote about this almost a year ago, I think. You talked to a young invincibles executive director, someone who’s familiar with this age group, and he said, “Our polling shows that less than 5 percent of young people choose not to have health care. The number one reason they don’t have it is the cost.” This seems to bear that out, and it also is a great response, a rejoinder if you will, to all these outside groups that have been encouraging young people, irresponsibly I might add, not to sign up for health care insurance. People want –  young people want health care, and this rollout seems to prove that point.

KLEIN: Yeah, I mean as you say, young people want health care. We see it in every poll. I mean, when you offer young people health care in a job setting, so the employer is paying part of the freight, which is how most people in America get their health insurance, young people take it up at almost the same rate as older people. I mean, they’re paying some out-of-pocket, but as long as it is affordable, young folks want it. And I mean, just sort of intuitively, you and I know from experience, you know, all young people when they’re bargaining for jobs, getting a job with health care is a huge deal. It is like a life milestone. To a lot of folks who I know, that is essentially the marker of becoming an adult – finally, a job with health care. Getting health care is important to people. If they don't buy it, it isn't going to be because they don't want it. It’s going to be because it is unaffordable for them.

WAGNER: The ironic point here: young invincibles know they’re not invincible.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.