Today's subject is an article by Ann Coulter. Looking at the lead article on her website, Health Care for the Pushy, (http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2013-11-06.html#read_more, accessed 07 Nov 2013), I could not fail to notice several misstatements.

The premise of Coulter's article is that Obama lied about people being able to keep health insurance they like. Regardless if one agrees or disagrees with Coulter's opinion on Obamacare, she doesn't seem to have a good handle on her facts. For instance, she says:

Eighty-five percent of Americans were happy with their health care before Obamacare, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index -- higher than almost any other product or service polled.

Well, if you go and look at the American Customer Satisfaction Index (http://theacsi.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=147&catid=&Itemid=212&i=Health+Insurance, accessed 07 Nov 2013), 72% of people with health insurance in 2012 were satisfied with what they had. If we consider that approximately 85% of Americans had some kind of health insurance in 2012 (ref: www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/income_wealth/cb13-165.html, accessed 07 Nov 2013), this means that approximately 61% of Americans had health insurance that they were happy with. I have no idea where Coulter got her numbers - certainly not from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

In the first 100 words of Coulter's article she cites sources for two statements. The first is simply "Obama lied." Her citation link takes you to the amazon.com page for her new book, Never Trust a Liberal Over 3, Especially a Republican. That crackling noise you hear is the sound of my mind boggling. I don't think can we hold up Ann Coulter as someone to emulate for her citation style though her marketing style has much to admire.

Coulter's second citation is attached to this statement:

Even without the 2010 Health and Human Services (HHS) report admitting that 93 million Americans would lose their health insurance, anyone with half a brain (which is a pre-existing condition) knew that millions of Americans would be thrown off their insurance plans under Obamacare.

That's quite a statement, and since Coulter was so obliged to provide a link as citation, of course I had to check it out. It turns out that Coulter's citation-by-link takes you not to a government report but to an October 31 article on the Forbes magazine website. The article is Obama Officials In 2010: 93 Million Americans Will Be Unable To Keep Their Health Plans Under Obamacare, in a regular column called The Apothecary by Avik Roy (http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/31/obama-officials-in-2010-93-million-americans-will-be-unable-to-keep-their-health-plans-under-obamacare/, accessed 07 Nov 2013).

In the Forbes article, the author cites "an obscure" 2010 study in the Federal Register as support for his contention that:

Obama administration knew that Obamacare would disrupt private plans. If you read the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, you knew that it was dishonest for President Obama to claim that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” as he did—and continues to do—on countless occasions. And we now know that the administration knew this all along. It turns out that in an obscure report buried in a June 2010 edition of the Federal Register, administration officials predicted massive disruption of the private insurance market.

The Forbes article bravely gives the reader a workable link to the study in the Federal Register and even goes so far as to quote and cite the study's contents by page:

The Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013,” wrote the administration on page 34,552 of the Register.

Have you ever spent time trying to read statutes and regulations issued by the federal government? My sympathy to those, like me, who have had to do so in pursuit of employment. (Frankly, if I never have to see another EPA rule on drinking water standards, I will die a happy camper.) It is well known that federal regulations have off-label uses for curing insomnia and driving mothers-in-law into long-term care in a sanatarium. The Federal Register document cited here is no exception.

If you visit page 34,552 of the 2010 Federal Register, what you will find is a page that's in the middle of an analysis to estimate how many grandfathered employer-provided health insurance plans would be retained or relinquished for new plans as a function of different market conditions. It looked at existing patterns of insurance plan turn-over, the availability of plans with more competitive pricing, annual increases in insurance costs and factors that might lead a small business to drop employee health insurance altogether, to name some of the variables examined.

It's worth looking at this section of the Federal Register document a little closer. Here's the section and sub-section titles:

Estimates of Number of Plans and Employees Affected
  1. . Methodology for Analyzing Plan Changes Over Time in the Group Market
  2. . Impacts on the Group Market Resulting From Changes From 2008 to 2009
  3. . Sensitivity Analysis: Assuming That Employers Will Be Willing To Absorb a Premium Increase in Order To Remain Grandfathered
  4. . Sensitivity Analysis: Incomplete Flexibility To Substitute One Cost-Sharing Mechanism for Another
  5. . Estimates for 2011–2013

In a nutshell, this analysis began by explaining how the estimates would be derived, looked at data from 2008 and 2009 as an aid in making estimates, pushed the data through two different scenarios to test how different market conditions would impact the numbers calculated, and then made estimates based on all of that. Forbes neglected to say anything about the character of this speculative analysis, and in fact, Forbes managed to leave off the first clause of the sentence it quoted directly. Here's the whole statement, including what Forbes left out:

Under this assumption, the Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013.

Did you catch that? "Under this assumption..." This statement is conditional on an assumption. What assumption is that? Let's the Federal Register speak for itself:

Estimates are provided above for the percentage of employers that will retain grandfather status in 2011. These estimates are extended through 2013 by assuming that the identical percentage of plan sponsors will relinquish grandfathering in each year. Again, to the extent that the 2008–2009 data reflect plans that are more likely to make frequent changes in cost sharing, this assumption will overestimate the number of plans relinquishing grandfather status in 2012 and 2013.

Basically, this document looked at employer-provided insurance plan turnover data from previous years and then used it to extrapolate those rates for 2012/13.

This is a far cry from saying that Obama knew that 93 million people would have their insurance cancelled on them.

Here's the kicker, at least for me - the title of this Federal Register document is:

Interim Final Rules for Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Coverage Relating to Status as a Grandfathered Health Plan Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Right below this title you will find:

ACTION: Interim final rules with request for comments.

This analysis included in this Federal Register document isn't a "2010 Health and Human Services (HHS) report" as Coulter described it, nor an "obscure report buried in a June 2010 edition of the Federal Register" as it was described in Forbes. This analysis was the internal commentary of the proposed final form of the regulations governing grandfathered health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, complete with a call for commentary to be considered prior to the issuance of the final regulations.

Were there any statements in these Interim Final Rules on grandfathered health plans that the Obama administration knew 93 million Americans would have their insurance cancelled on them in 2013? I think there are two ways to answer that. The first is easy: no, there is no such statement in this Federal Register document. The second is similar: an estimate that approximately half of all employer-provided health plans will relinquish grandfathered status due to market conditions is not the same things as saying 93 million people will have their health insurance cancelled on them. Those statements may look the similar but they are not the same. A citron is not an orange despite the fact that they are both round juicy citrus fruits. And I don't buy the sudden discovery by pundits that the current administration knew the sky would fall back in 2010 and knowingly kept it from everyone. Publication of proposed regulations with requests for commentary in the Federal Register is not at all obscure. In addition, are conservative pundits really so dense that they missed calling Obama out on the keep-your-health-plan comment when folks like FactChecker.org took him to task in 2009 for it? Say it ain't so!

The real issue at hand is not the misquoting the Federal Register. The real issue is that President Obama said that people would be able to keep the health insurance plans they liked. The patent absurdity of that statement was blown out of the water in the same year that Obama uttered it, by no less than that great non-partisan debunker of political hyperboles, FactCheck.com (see http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/keep-your-insurance-not-everyone/, accessed 07 Nov 2013).

I think Obama is going to regret what he said about people keeping their health care plans. I think it's going to be the greatest foot-in-mouth moment of the Obama presidency, one just as reknowned as "Read my lips - no more taxes" and "I'm not a crook!"

As far as legacy quotes are concerned, it's nowhere as good as "I did not have sexual relations with that woman!"