Commentary: Little to celebrate on Obamacare's sixth birthday

By Sally C. Pipes

Last week marked Obamacare's sixth birthday. President Obama is, of course, celebrating the occasion. At a recent speech in Milwaukee, the president offered a catalog of the law's supposed successes.

Unfortunately, not one of his boasts stands up to scrutiny. He's ignored the growing pile of evidence that his namesake is failing the American people.

Take his biggest boast - that Obamacare has helped 20 million people gain coverage over the past six years. Arriving at that number takes some fuzzy math.

Enrollment in Obamacare's exchanges is way below forecasts. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 21 million people would enroll in 2016. In January, the CBO downgraded its estimate to 13 million. As of today, only 12.7 million people have signed up.

Enrollment isn't likely to increase much. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, if all the states were to boost enrollment to "at least the average of the 10 best-performing states," the number of sign-ups would still be fewer than 15 million over the next several years. That's about 10 million fewer than Obamacare's architects had expected.

Earlier this month, the president also claimed that the uninsured rate fell below 10 percent in 2015. But there are conflicting surveys of how many uninsured are out there.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the president's figure counts just those who were uninsured at the time of the survey. When asked whether they had been uninsured at any time during the previous year, 13.8 percent said yes.

A Gallup survey, meanwhile, pegged the uninsured rate at 11.9 percent at the end of 2015. According to this month's Kaiser Family Foundation poll, almost half of the uninsured said high costs were the main reason they hadn't gotten insurance.

How about Obamacare's impact on employment? If anything, the president said, it's helped create jobs. He pointed to 14 million new ones since March 2010.

But he ignored the fact that employment growth is at historically low levels. It's failed to keep pace with the growth of the labor force, which 15.1 million people have joined since 2010.

Last month, more than three-quarters of the jobs created were part-time - partly because employers are trying to avoid Obamacare's mandates for full-timers, defined as those working at least 30 hours per week.

The president has also claimed that health-care inflation is at its lowest level in decades. But the rate of health spending growth started declining in 2003, government data show, from 9 percent that year to 3.9 percent in 2009. That, of course, is the year before Obamacare became law. And health-care inflation hasn't stayed at that 2009 level. In 2014, health spending jumped 5.3 percent - more than three times the general inflation rate.

What about the claim that Obamacare saves people money? Given Obamacare's trillion-dollar price tag, one might conclude that folks would be paying less for insurance.

That's hardly the case. Compared with pre-Obamacare options, individual insurance is far more expensive. Premiums have climbed an average of nearly 15 percent across the country this year. Seventeen states saw their premiums jump more than 20 percent.

Obamacare's mandates and taxes have also added to the cost of employer-sponsored insurance. Indeed, the law is expected to cost employers with more than 10,000 employees up to $186 billion - or nearly $6,000 per employee - between 2014 and 2023, according to the American Health Policy Institute.

Then there are Obamacare's other costs. Insurers and government programs will pay $270 billion more in overhead costs by 2022, according to a report by public health professors at the City University of New York. Small businesses will spend an average of $15,000 per year complying with the law.

There may be no better example of Obamacare's failures than the collapse of its co-ops. The president funneled $2.4 billion straight from taxpayers' wallets into these nonprofits. But 12 of Obamacare's 23 co-ops have shut down. That's forced thousands of consumers to secure alternative coverage. These failed co-ops haven't paid back $1.2 billion in federal loans - and are unlikely to ever do so. Of the remaining co-ops, eight are at risk of failure.

After six years, Obamacare is collapsing. The law is more vulnerable than ever. It deserves a funeral, not a birthday party.

Sally C. Pipes is the president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in health care policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is "The Way Out of Obamacare." pipes@pacificresearch.org