As the exchanges for healthcare plans under the Affordable Health Care Act (in shorthand, Obamacare) are poised to begin operation October 1, the old clash of personal stories versus hard statistics has begun to emerge in official Washington.
This clash was especially evident at the regular briefing for reporters at the White House on Thursday, as correspondents offered examples of Americans blaming problems with their health care policy on Obamacare and Press Secretary Jay Carney — while not dismissing the anecdotal evidence —insisting it is not part of any nationwide trend.
Newsmax talked to seasoned political consultants from the Democratic and Republican Parties and found them divided about what better makes a case — stories or statistics.
During one heated exchange, Fox News' Ed Henry told Carney how "a viewer contacted me and said she listened to your answers, and that her husband works at a restaurant in West Virginia. He had 40 hours a week just a few months ago. It’s been cut down, cut down. He’s now working 22 hours a week, and his boss has said it’s because of implementation of healthcare."
While insisting he was not dismissing the claim of the Henry's caller, Carney said that "what the facts are, including in the restaurant industry, is that that has not been happening across the country in any systematic way."
After going back and forth with Henry on the subject of individuals' difficulties on the job with Obamacare, the President's top spokesman said: "the aggregate truth here about what we know what’s happening in the employment market and what’s happening in the insurance market does not bear out claims that the Affordable Care Act is causing employers to drop employees from insurance."
So what packs more of a punch politically, stories or statistics?
"I will usually say real people always trump real statistics because they are made of flesh and blood," veteran Democratic consultant Peter Fenn told Newsmax after the briefing, "But they have to be real — not made-up."
Fenn, a veteran of the presidential campaigns of Al Gore in 1988, John Kerry in '04, and Barack Obama in '08, said that he "always tries to counter one personal story with another." He cited a recent Idaho Statesman story of a restaurant owner who began by saying he couldn't afford health insurance for his employees under Obamacare but soon found the program worked very well for them.
Republican pollster John McLaughlin told us: "Mark Twain said 'there are lies, damned lies, and there are statistics.
"Reality trumps both stories and statistics," said McLaughlin. "If the statistics reinforce what you believe in your personal life, you believe them. If vignettes reinforce what you experience and believe, you believe them."
Referring to Carney's remarks about "what's happening across the country" McLaughlin said that "pretty soon he will have to deal with the statistics showing that premiums, copayments, and deductibles are all going up and that doctors are talking more and more about retiring or selling their practice to hospitals. It will be interesting to see how he explains them, since they are 'what's happening nationwide.'"
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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