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How Fox News and the AP Got Their Obamacare Story Wrong

Fox News' Bret Baier made the mistake of relying on an inaccurate Associated Press article that misquoted Obama administration officials.

As we reported earlier, Bob Cesca and Media Matters caught Fox News' Bret Baier with his hand in the Associated Press' cookie jar, citing an "independent expert" who refuted new Obamacare figures without identifying or attributing him. Baier reported, Monday night, that the expert refuted an Obama administration figure that placed the number of Americans who have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at 16.4 million, reporting that the expert "says the reality is fewer than 10 million people have signed up."

When pressed to reveal the identity of the expert (by way of a lighthearted Monchichi quip), here's how Baier responded:

The Associated Press article that Baier (now) cites described the figure this way:

The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 16.4 million adults have gained health insurance since the law's major coverage provisions began taking effect in 2010. ...Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, said his survey shows the uninsured rate declined from 16.3 percent in early 2010 to 12.3 percent this year among adults 18-64. That translates to about 9.7 million fewer uninsured adults over that time period. Witters said he has not had time to review the government's methodology.

The White House pushed back on the AP report Thursday morning, calling the story  "very misleading," and refuting it in detail. "The comparison AP is making between the 16.4 million and the 9.7 million is not valid," a White House official told The Daily Banter in an email. "These two estimates are measuring fundamentally different things." The official continued:

The 16.4 million is an estimate of the number of people who have insurance today under the ACA, but who would not have had insurance in a world without the ACA. It is the correct metric to look at if your goal is to understand the effects the ACA has had on insurance coverage. HHS arrived at its 16.4 million estimate using a well-documented methodology that is based in large part on a peer-reviewed study published last summer in the New England Journal of Medicine. Notably, HHS’ estimate is nearly identical to the corresponding projection from CBO, which CBO updated earlier this month. At that time, CBO projected that 17 million people would have coverage because of the law in 2015. (See Table 2 here.) By contrast, the 9.7 million computed by Gallup-Healthways is based on a simple comparison of the uninsured rate between 2010 and the present. Unlike the 16.4 million, this comparison does not control for other factors that might drive trends in health insurance coverage, so it is not an accurate estimate of the change in coverage because of the ACA. It is very misleading as written and no other news outlet has conflated these numbers as far as I know."

The study this official cites was completed in June of 2014, and placed the number of people who gained insurance under the ACA as high as 17 million. That's without the gains of the past three quarters. which according to Gallup-Healthways, place the uninsured rate now at an estimated 12.3 percent, Additionally, the Associated Press appears to have misquoted administration officials when reporting the administration's figures. The 16.4 million doesn't represent the difference in the uninsured rate since 2010, as the AP stated, but since open enrollment began in 2013, since that is when the component most directly aimed at reducing the uninsured rate went into effect. The New York Times has much more detailed reporting on that score:

Since October 2013, (Richard G. Frank, an assistant secretary of health and human services) said, 14.1 million uninsured people ages 18 to 64 have gained insurance. In addition, he said, 2.3 million young adults were covered from 2010 to October 2013 because they were allowed to remain on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26 under a provision of the law.

The uninsured rate continued to rise between 2010 and 2013, so even using Witters' methodology for that time period, the figure is about 14 million, not 9.7 million. The administration's methodology appears to split the difference between the Gallup number and the NEJM study's much broader range, and it also closely matches the CBO's estimate. The full figures will be published by HHS on March 23. Update: Baier responded on Twitter again, promising to be "more complete" next time the story comes up:

Nothing from the Associated Press yet.