President Barack Obama walked into the White House press briefing room last week for an unexpected news conference and announced that not only had the number of healthcare.gov enrollees reached 8 million, but more than one-third were young people.
Age matters because to prevent the so-called “death spiral,” the system needs enough young and healthy enrollees to cover the cost of older and less-healthy participants. “Young invincibles” are between ages 18 and 34 and are often the least likely to believe they need insurance.
“Thirty-five percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35,” Obama told the packed press room on Thursday.
But even a White House “fact sheet,” released the same day as the president’s press conference, contradicted Obama’s own statement, saying that 28 percent of enrollees were in that age category. That’s a significant percentage, but still short of the president’s claim.
The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” gave Obama two Pinocchios, out of a maximum of four, for the claim about youth enrollees.
The fudging is further significant because in the summer of 2013, the administration said its goal was for 40 percent of enrollees to be between the ages of 18 and 34. Thus, Obama’s implication about 35 percent makes it appear as if the administration came close to its goal than reality.
“So you can see why there might be some excitement about a figure of 35 percent, as it sounded rather close to the original 40-percent goal,” the Post said. “Indeed, the 35-percent figure was first spread a few hours before the president’s remarks by state insurance commissioners, who had met privately with the president at the White House. … The 35 percent figures includes children under the age of 18.”
Because the White House didn’t conceal the more accurate 28 percent, the Post said it was not unlike past presidential administration in trying have its cake and eat it too.
“In this case, officials were able to put into circulation a really good number, without context, via the state insurance commissioners,” the Post said. “That’s the number the president highlighted in his news conference.”
“Either way, the White House got its spin out. By the time the dust settled, the original 40 percent goal was largely forgotten–as well as the fact that the final 28 percent figure was only slightly better than the 27 percent achieved in March,” the Post added. “That may be a good day’s work for press management, but the president should have used the more relevant figure in his remarks.”