Kristol’s Funny Obamacare Numbers

Bill KristolSince he left Fox News Channel in 2013, conservative pundit Bill Kristol now gets to play TV expert on a range of outlets. On April 6, he showed up on ABC‘s This Week to misinform viewers about healthcare.

When host Jonathan Karl noted that the White House announced that more than 7 million Americans had signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, Kristol declared this wasn’t as impressive as it sounded:

The Rand Corporation says about 800,000 of those people were previously uninsured. Eight hundred thousand out of 7 million, the huge bulk of them previously insured.

So big deal. He moved people from insurance plans they liked, forced them into the exchanges. That’s like saying you’ve got to give the Soviet Union a lot of credit, 200 million people bought bread in their grocery stories. If it’s the only place you can buy health insurance, they’re going to get people to buy health insurance there.

That would be an astonishing revelation. But it falls apart under scrutiny.

The story appears to have originated at the British tabloid the Daily Mail (4/1/14), which declared an “unsettling reality” this way: ¬†

Numbers from a RAND Corporation study that has been kept under wraps suggest that barely 858,000 previously uninsured Americans–nowhere near 7.1 million–have paid for new policies and joined the ranks of the insured by Monday night.

The paper added that the Rand study “found that just 23 percent of new enrollees had no insurance before signing up. “

But are these numbers correct? The Daily Mail story mentioned that this Rand analysis was actually covered elsewhere: “It should be noted that the study has not been officially published and has only been reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.”

This is true. But the L.A. Times‘ account (3/30/14) of the research¬† is quite different. Under the headline “Obamacare Has Led to Health Coverage for Millions More People,” reporter Noam Levey wrote that, based on the Rand survey and other indicators, “at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage.”

The Times reported that about one-third of the 6 million who have signed up on the new marketplaces were previously uninsured. Beyond that, Levey writes:  

At least 4.5 million previously uninsured adults have signed up for state Medicaid programs, according to Rand’s unpublished survey data, which were shared with the Times.

So how does any of this square with Kristol’s claim? The “only 800,000” figure seems to be based on one interpretation of how many people have already paid insurance premiums, which is an issue that many on the right have seized on (L.A. Times, 3/31/14).

But Kristol claimed that the law has insured only 800,000 people who didn’t have insurance before the law took effect. That does not appear to be close to accurate.


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.