Over at the Guardian, Ana Marie Cox writes about the fallacy of using anecdotal evidence to support an argument. Specifically, she repudiates the individual horror stories about Obamacare that have dominated much of the press coverage. According to Cox:
The failure of the exchanges created an information vacuum as far as Obamacare successes went; in rushed the individual stories of those who claimed to have been hurt by the changes to the market. It didn’t matter that these stories are, even without enrollment numbers from the exchanges, demonstrably unrepresentative! Only a fraction of Americans, 5%, even have the kind of policies that could have been cancelled – these were the people who could claim to have been “lied to”… or worse. Their stories became part of an Obamacare horror story canon.
She has a point. Individual stories, while powerful, should not be mistaken for the truth about a social program. Of course, Obama is as guilty of this technique as anyone, telling stories about people for whom Obamacare has been a success. Actually, even there the administration has bungled, given that Jessica Stanford, who was cited by Obama in the Rose Garden as being emblematic of all of the good that the ACA does, can’t afford her new insurance. That issue aside, the problem with Cox’s argument is that she provides no statistical evidence to show Obamacare is working. The reason for this is because there is none. Even the lone figure that Cox cites above – the 5% – is false. The American Enterprise Institute estimated that between 50 and 100 million people will have their insurance policies terminated in a second wave of cancellations when small businesses are forced into new standards in 2014. The 5% figure Cox cites only applies to individual policy holders, who are the vanguard of a much larger problem.
I applaud Cox’s desire to separate anecdote from statistics. Anecdotes can be powerful conveyors of ideas, but rigorous analysis must always guide policy making. It’s just a shame that Obamacare fails on both counts.