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About those 'soaring' premiums...

Associated Press

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refuses to comment on his own party's government-shutdown scheme, but his office told MSNBC yesterday that Republicans are "looking at all options to reach our ultimate goal of repealing this law that is causing premiums to soar and full-time jobs to disappear."

And this is one of the key reasons why policy debates with Boehner and the House GOP don't go well. It's not that the Speaker has competing ideas that Democrats disagree with; it's that the Speaker has a competing reality that's sharply at odds with everyone else's.

In this case, the notion that the Affordable Care Act is causing "full-time jobs to disappear" is absurd. The claim has been thoroughly debunked and looks sillier all the time -- USA Todayreported just this morning, "Small-business hiring and confidence about the future are rising, a signal of the economy's growing strength and diminishing concerns about employee insurance coverage required by the new health care law."

But it's Boehner's apparent belief that health care premiums are "soaring" that's especially amazing.

Premiums for employer-provided health insurance increased by relatively modest amounts for the second year in a row, according to a new survey, further evidence that once-fierce health care inflation might be abating.

For the House Speaker, premiums are "soaring" and the health care law deserves the blame. For those of us who live in reality, premium increases have slowed dramatically, and the health care law very likely deserves the credit.

Is it possible Boehner's office doesn't know what "soar" means? Because this one's not even close.

Indeed, while congressional Republicans insist "Obamacare" isn't "bending the cost curve," the evidence shows the exact opposite.

Matt Yglesias made the case yesterday that the Obama administration deserves the credit for this.

Economic actors are forward-looking. Capital investments take years to plan. You had a big recession in 2008 and 2009 that naturally squeezed spending and depressed investment. And then you had the passage of a law in 2010 that sent a clear signal that the direction of policy is changing. Only some of the cost-cutting measures have been implemented, and a lot of the toothier stuff is still to come down the road. But the law's passage and the president's implementation raises confidence that an era of relative austerity for the health care sector is underway, and people are acting accordingly.

And people looking forward and anticipating cost controls are right to do so. It's notable that while the GOP is still fully committed to Obamacare repeal, they've started writing budgets that assume the Obamacare cost savings take place. Absent those assumptions, they can't make the math work. The previous trajectory of health care spending looked unsustainable, and then we had the passage of a law that tries several dozen different ways of changing the trajectory, and now the health care industry is assuming that the trajectory will in fact not be sustained and is acting accordingly.

Igor Volsky has more along these lines, noting the fiscal impact of the Affordable Care Act's systemic reforms.

Given years of aggressive health care inflation, this seemed like one of those figures that would simply never improve -- premiums would just keep getting worse indefinitely. We deal with these kinds of daunting challenges all the time -- the deficit will never disappear; the number of Americans with health care coverage will never improve; carbon emissions will never fall.

But progress is possible and the health care cost curve is, at long last, bending in the right direction. Boehner and his party predicted the opposite would happen -- policy projections aren't their strong suit -- and now they want Americans not to believe their lying eyes.