Mitt Romney faced off against President Barack Obama in the first presidential debate of 2012 in Denver. We checked several claims from the debate.
During the first presidential debate in Denver, Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama’s health care law by saying, "Right now, the (Congressional Budget Office) says up to 20 million people will lose their insurance as Obamacare goes into effect next year."
While PolitiFact does not put predictions to the Truth-O-Meter, we do fact-check whether politicians or pundits accurately portray the predictions made by others.
We did so in June, when Romney made a similar claim in a speech -- that "Obamacare … means that for up to 20 million Americans, they will lose the insurance they currently have, the insurance that they like and they want to keep." We rated that claim False.
We’ll take another look at the claim here.
Cherry-picking the CBO report
When we checked with the Romney campaign last June, a spokesman said the source of Romney’s claim was a March 2012 study by the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan number-crunching arm of Congress. The Romney campaign re-confirmed that source after the debate.
The CBO study was undertaken to estimate the impact of the health care law on the number of people obtaining health care coverage from their employer. CBO came up with a "baseline" estimate -- its best guess. CBO settled on a range of 3 million to 5 million fewer non-elderly people obtaining coverage through their employer each year from 2019 through 2022 than would have been the case before the law was passed. Including those with individually purchased policies means a decline of an additional 1 million to 3 million Americans.
That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s quite a bit lower than 20 million. So where did 20 million come from?
CBO supplemented its "baseline" estimate with four alternative, and wildly divergent, estimates. One resulted in a net gain of 3 million people with employer-sponsored insurance. The other scenarios resulted in a decline of 10 million, a decline of 12 million, and -- here it is -- a decline of 20 million.
A number of other estimates by groups other than CBO have tracked with CBO’s baseline estimate, rather than with Romney’s figure. A study by the Urban Institute projected a decline of about 500,000 people. The Lewin Group predicted a decline of about 3 million people. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuary pegged the number at about 1 million fewer people. And the RAND Corp. projected that about 4 million more individuals would be covered by employment-based coverage by 2016.
So the 20 million number Romney cited does come from CBO, and he hedged by saying "up to." But it’s the most extreme outcome of the five presented, and it’s not the primary estimate.
Some who "lose" coverage will do so because they find better options
Even beyond the cherry-picking, Romney is wrong to say that 20 million Americans will "lose" their insurance.