Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PolitiFact's shaky and debatable conclusions (Updated)

On April 10, 2014, PolitiFact graded Sen. John E. Sununu "False" for a statement he made about the health care reform law's effect on the number of uninsured Americans.

There's plenty wrong with PolitiFact's reasoning in that fact check, starting with its assumption that federal spending on the ACA has to do with an increase in the number of people who sign up for insurance through an employer.  Contrary to PolitiFact's skewed focus, Sununu was making the point that the insurance exchanges were providing little bang for the buck in reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

But rather than writing an opus dealing with the entire misguided fact check, we're going to narrowly focus on one particular PolitiFlub:
A Rand survey that debuted a couple days after Sununu’s comments put the previously insured rate at about 36 percent of new marketplace enrollees. The Rand survey did not account for people who signed up for insurance in the final days of March.
If 36 percent of the marketplace enrollees were previously insured, then that leaves the balance, 64 percent, as enrollees moving out of the ranks of the uninsured.  That's a big win for Obamacare and the insurance exchanges!

Actually it's a big blunder by PolitiFact.  Our unbiased, Pulitzer Prize-winning (2009, not 2014) fact checkers left out a little "un" that reverses the percentages.  Here's how the RAND study put it (bold emphasis added):
Our estimates suggest that only about one-third of new marketplace enrollees were previously uninsured. While this percentage seems low in absolute terms, it is slightly higher than an earlier figure reported by McKinsey & Company.
So PolitiFact was way off.

We tried to give PolitiFact warning that might result in a correction.  PolitiFact solicits fact checks with the #politifacthis Twitter hashtag.  We obliged with the following:
The error in PolitiFact's reporting persists.

Update 4/15/2014 8 p.m.PolitiFact issues a correction, less than 12 hours after we posted.  It probably didn't hurt that we repeated the above tweet @KatieLSanders earlier today.

We appreciate PolitiFact making the correction, particularly since it doesn't always happen.

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