2020

Why Biden’s ACA Exaggerations Are Problematic

August 23, 2019
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Crazy Uncle Joe Biden. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Each of the Democratic front-runners has a central reason for running. Pete Buttigeig’s is generational change. Bernie Sanders’s is political revolution. Eizabeth Warren’s is political revolution,brought to you by your favorite college prof. Kamala Harris’s is that Kamala Harris deserves to be president for some reason. Joe Biden’s is that Donald Trump is a moral stain on the country that must be extirpated and patched with someone upstanding, honorable, and trustworthy.

Officially, the Biden campaign slogan is “Our best days still lie ahead.” But it might as well be: “Truth, justice, and the American way.”

Which would make it a problem if, say, Biden’s first major campaign ad in Iowa contained a huge lie. 

The ad, for which the campaign did a  “high six-figure buy,” claims that, “Together, [President Obama and Vice President Biden] worked to… pass the historic Affordable Care Act, protecting over 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions.”

Over 100 million? In a country of 327 million? This, after President Obama claimed there were only 46 million uninsured Americans in 2009? Seems like a stretch. This isn’t just another malapropism or slip-of-the-tongue from Uncle Joe. Dozens of campaign staff must have signed off on the 60-second ad.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has collected numbers on Obamacare signups since the exchanges went live in 2014. Adding together every new signup for every year since 2014 yields about 68 million total signups. Those numbers include people who signed up for plans multiple years in a row. For example, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, of the 8.4 million total signups in the 2019 enrollment period, 6.3 million were “consumers renewing coverage” while only 2.1 million were “new consumers.”

The number of people covered under Obamacare exchange plans is substantially lower than the 68 million signups. Some portion of those people did not have preexisting conditions, so the number of people with preexisting conditions covered under the ACA must be even lower still.

Obamacare also mandated that private insurers couldn’t deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, so it could be that the Biden campaign fudged the numbers by including people who might have not otherwise had coverage. But, much like the Obama/Biden-era statistics on jobs “saved,” there’s no way to know. The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for clarification on the source of their statistics.

If he was somehow suggesting that the ACA protected people with pre-existing conditions who had employer-provided health insurance, that’s also incorrect. The HIPAA legislation of 1996 provided many of those protections.

As falsehoods go, this one is relatively small (unless you consider the numerical size of the error, which may be in the tens of million, in which case it’s very large). But if the entire point of the Biden campaign is to lead us back from a place of darkness to a place of light, from a politics of lies to a politics of truth, he should probably keep the fibs to within an order of magnitude.

Maybe our best days really do lie ahead.

Benjamin Parker

Benjamin Parker is a senior editor at The Bulwark.