Obamacare’s Red Herring

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Obamacare’s young/old mix isn’t important–but, hey, did you see those figures on the young/old mix? “[R]umors of an Obamacare death spiral have been greatly exaggerated,” the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” told us recently. The Post‘s Sarah Kliff quoted Kaiser Family Foundation’s expert, Larry Levitt–who seems to be pretty much the other end of Wonkblog‘s phone line these days–saying that the mix of young versus old in the Obamacare “risk pools” isn’t really that significant. “When you do the math, it matters, but not nearly as much as the conventional wisdom suggests,” Levitt said. Wonkblog then cited a Kaiser Family Foundation study showing that if young people sign up at half the rate of older people, premiums would only “fall 2.5 percent short of covering subscribers.” Not a “terrifying” number, says Levitt. Message: ‘Don’t worry! Obamacare on track!’

Yet buried in the very study cited by Kliff is an admission that if the mix of young vs. old isn’t important, the mix of healthy vs. sick might be:

“[H]ow enrollment is distributed by health within each age group is, in fact, more important, since premiums cannot vary at all by health status under the ACA. In other words, the goal is to enroll healthy as well as sick young adults, and also healthy older adults.”

The importance of ‘healthy vs. sick’ has since been reaffirmed by Levitt in a series of tweets. Obamacare critic Robert Laszewski agrees: “There’s a big misconception that this is about young people. That’s baloney. It’s about healthy people. A healthy 20-year-old might only pay a $100 premium. You want healthy 40 and 50-year-olds.”

So why did Wonkblog tell us Obamacare was in good shape when the study it cites suggests it might be in not-so-good shape if it fails to sign up enough healthy older customers? When people say Wonkblog is often an apologist for Obamacare–and they do!–this may be the sort of thing they mean. … On the other hand, the Post may simply be fixated on the young/old mix because those are the statistics that are available. Questions about health aren’t being asked of enrollees anymore. “We’re not going to know about health mix anytime soon,” says Levitt. “Even insurers won’t know a lot when they have to set premiums for 2015.”

If you’re going to call yourself “Wonkblog,” though, shouldn’t you at least mention that the statistics you are so obsessively discussing aren’t the important ones? Or do you focus on less-important numbers just because they are available and make Obamacare look OK ?

P.S.: Kliff was back Sunday with another post fixating on the by-her-own-reporting-not-very-important young/old mix. Of course the entire MSM is now writing about this red herring, because those are the numbers the administration has released.

Mickey Kaus