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Ezra Klein’s Vox salivates over Obamacare sign-ups

Is Ezra Klein’s Vox doing explanatory journalism or oversimplified journalism? The liberal policy site’s celebration of the Obamacare enrollment figures raises the question.

“Obamacare succeeded for one simple reason: it’s horrible to be uninsured,” wrote Sarah Kliff, Klein’s former Wonk Blog partner. “The health-care law beat its mark because it was selling something 8 million people want to buy.”

Kliff spent some 900 words compiling evidence from pollsters that even though the Obamacare websites didn’t work at first and the entire process was a hassle, people “really, really wanted health insurance.”

“I asked pollsters Mike Perry and Tresa Undem, who specialized in surveying the uninsured, whether they had found anyone who’d been deterred by the unusable web site and overloaded call centers,” Kliff wrote. “Not even one person, they said. The persistence was amazing.”

Notice there’s not even a question about how many of the 8 million sign-ups were previously uninsured. An authoritative RAND Corporation study estimates that 36 percent of sign-ups were previously uninsured; but those without prior coverage are also less likely to purchase those plans.

You would think there would be a mention of the individual mandate that requires almost everyone to have health insurance or pay a tax. That tax may start small, but it adds up over time — $42,077 on average for an individual and $126,231 for a family of four, just for the ages between 27 (when adults are now kicked off their parents’ coverage) and 64 (the year before Medicare eligibility), according to one analysis.

As Kliff herself wrote pre-Vox, a good chunk of those exchange enrollees are people who have been willingly paying for their own private coverage, but switched over — either because the health care law canceled their plan or taxpayer subsidies for a service they already wanted turned out to be a better deal

Whether that’s enough to actually get Americans quality and affordable health care is debatable. Experts currently agree that premiums and out-of-pocket costs are rising; that health insurance doesn’t mean you can get into see any doctor, let alone your own; that top cancer hospitals are frequently excluded from exchange plans; the list of downsides goes on and on.

The only Obamacare flaw the Vox piece acknowledges is HealthCare.gov’s early glitches.

Vox only teaches us that Americans “really, really want health insurance” because “being uninsured is horrible.” So much for context.

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