(Bloomberg View) — My recent column on the sixth anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as Obamacare, generated some energetic criticism — or, rather, half a paragraph of it did. While I acknowledged that many Americans have benefited from the law, I also said that the Obama administration was too eager to give it credit for slowing the growth of health-care spending. This slowdown, I pointed out, had begun in 2002, years before Obamacare was enacted. (I could have added that the decline was not confined to the U.S.)
Jonathan Chait, a journalist who strongly supports Obamacare, says that my skepticism about the law’s effect on health spending amounts to a refusal to face reality, or even to an attempt to craft a message that will appeal to “crazy” Republican voters.
He argues that we should look at a longer timeline. The early 2000s saw “unusually elevated levels of health-care inflation.” They gave way first to “historically normal health-care inflation rates that were still unsustainably high” and then to much lower post-Obamacare rates. So the law, he contends, made a difference.
Widening the lens, though, does not make Obamacare look any more effective in restraining costs. Slide 6 of this White House report on the law’s sixth anniversary shows a long though jagged decline in health-care inflation rates, with a peak in the early 1980s, a lower peak in the early 1990s, and a much lower peak about a decade ago. Obamacare looks like a non-event in that slide (even though the White House puts verbiage beneath the graph that gives itself credit).
The administration has in the past touted per-capita health spending as another measure that backs its view of the Obamacare effect. Again, though, its own graph showed no such effect.