Fact-checking the Obamacare fact-checkers

How much benefit of the doubt should Obamacare get at this point? It depends on who you ask.

The state of Colorado estimated that nearly 250,000 residents received cancellation notices from their insurance companies because their plans didn’t comply with Obamacare. Sen. Mark Udall’s office told them to count differently.

Udall’s team argued that many of these Coloradans would be able to renew or get other coverage from their insurance companies. But the state’s insurance division held firm: “Cancellation notices affected 249,199 people. … Many have already done early renewals. Regardless, they received cancellation notices.”

Well, debating the definition of “cancellation” is at least more edifying than holding forth on the meaning of “is.”

Defining Obamacare success down is not exclusively a pastime for Democratic officials. Nonpartisan fact-checkers have also been generous in giving Obamacare the benefit of the doubt.

Politifact, the Tampa Bay Times‘ widely respected fact-checking operation repeatedly refused to correct the various permutations of President Barack Obama’s “If you like your health plan, you can keep it” promise.

In six separate columns between 2008 and 2012, Politifact declined to correctly assess the promise as false. The group also rated Republican claims that people would lose health insurance as either half-true or false.

As late as November 2013, Politifact found Obamacare opponents “guilty of oversimplifying Obama’s original ‘if you like it’ promise.

Politifact editor Angie Drobnic Holan defended rating Obama’s health plan pledge as no worse than “half-true” in a column around the same time.

“Embrace the nuance,” Holan advised aspiring fact-checkers before delving into the health care law. Yes, the “cancellation notices that have gone out to people in the individual market directly contradict [Obama’s] statement.”

“But Obama wasn’t entirely off-base, either,” Holan continued, before explaining the president’s reasoning. “It was a way of letting people know that his plan wasn’t a single-payer, Canadian-style proposal.”

“The health care law touched almost every part of the health care system, in ways both major and minor,” she concluded. “It’s hard to make sweeping generalizations.”

Or is it? As the Washington Examiner‘s Sean Higgins observed, “rating something as ‘half true’ when it is flat-out false is still missing the mark by a significant margin.”

In December 2013, Politifact finally designated “If you like your plan” the lie of the year.