David Crisp: Warning—This column contains alleged facts

Daines

Sen. Steve Daines has lots to say about Obamacare. How much of it is factual?

An alert reader sent along a message he got from U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. “I just thought this might need an editorial reply,” the reader wrote. Agreed.

In the message, Daines happily reported that the Senate had just voted to repeal Obamacare. Not until the eighth paragraph did he mention that President Obama still has to sign the bill, which nobody expects to happen.

Crisp

David Crisp

Among many other things, Daines’ message blamed medical insurance rate hikes on Obamacare. That’s actually good news. In the first six years of the George W. Bush administration, according to FactCheck.org, insurance premiums rose 78 percent. In Obama’s first six years, the increase has been only 33 percent.

The rate of healthcare spending growth overall also has declined. A U.S. News report in May said this about healthcare spending in America: “Though it continues to rise each year, its rate of growth is slowing dramatically and unexpectedly. Projections show that this trend will continue during the coming decade.”

Even Obamacare’s most fervent supporters can’t be sure how much of this decline, if any, is attributable to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a debate worth having, but we can’t have it if our elected representatives ignore the actual facts.

Daines also claimed, “Too many Montanans have seen their work hours cut, been forced off the plans they liked and were told they couldn’t see the doctors they trusted.”

It’s hard to know how many is too many—one probably would get the job done in Daines’ ideological world. But it is hard to find evidence that work hours actually have been cut.

Investor’s Business Daily, no friend of Obamacare, compiled a list of 450 employers nationwide who had cut hours by September 2014 to avoid Obamacare requirements. Only one of those was in Montana—at Flathead Valley Community College, which limited the credit hours adjuncts could teach.

An ADP Research Institute report in June studied payroll data for millions of workers at 75,000 companies in the United States and found virtually no change in hours worked per employee under Obamacare.

Clearly, many Montanans did lose their old healthcare plans under Obamacare. A FactCheck.org report last year tried hard to nail down numbers about how many people lost their coverage or access to doctors under Obamacare but could come up only with rough estimates. It’s even less clear how many of those who lost existing coverage ended up worse off under Obamacare, or how one balances their plight against the millions of Americans who now have insurance for the first time.

But it’s probably safe to say that Montanans who bought their own insurance before Obamacare were hit harder than people in most states, in large part because Montana ranks behind only South Dakota in the number of households that operate a business. This is a problem that Daines might well get Congress to fix, were he not so intent on repealing rather than repairing Obamacare.

At any rate, good luck finding evidence that Obamacare is hurting the Montana economy. Barbara Wagner, chief economist at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, wrote in May that after many years of lagging wages, “Montana’s wages are now gaining on the U.S. with above average wage gains and a move up in the rankings.” In November, Montana’s unemployment rate fell to 4.0 percent, a full percentage point lower than the national average.

Daines wrote, “Obamacare not only takes uninsured Americans in the wrong direction, it’s failing to reliably provide the basic coverage that Montanans deserve.”

My alert reader wondered exactly what the senator meant by basic coverage: guaranteed coverage despite pre-existing conditions? The end of spending caps? The chance to stay longer on parents’ insurance? More coverage of preventive care? Lower prescription costs? Oh, wait. Those are basic provisions Obamacare added, not removed.

Daines’ own healthcare plan remains pure mush. He says on his website that “doctors and patients, not insurance companies or the government, should be in charge of health care decisions.” Good idea!

“Further,” he says, “I support reforms that would slow the rapid growth in health costs without jeopardizing access to high-quality care.”

I think I can speak for all Americans when I say, “Fine, but how?” You probably can guess his answer: Enact tort reform, which most estimates project would have only a tiny effect on healthcare costs while limiting the right of citizens to seek redress of grievances, and allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines, which would limit states’ rights guaranteed by the 10th Amendment.

Essentially, Daines prefers a return to the healthcare system that provided the most expensive care in the world while producing mediocre results that left tens of millions of Americans with no insurance at all. Merry Christmas.

David Crisp has worked for newspapers since 1979. He has been editor and publisher of the Billings Outpost since 1997. The Outpost is published every Thursday and is available for free all over Billings and in nearby communities.

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