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Obamacare Critics Said Obama Was 'Cooking the Books.' New Data Shows He Wasn't.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Another talking point against Obamacare just went poof. In the spring, as enrollment in the Affordable Care Act surpassed 7 million and settled above 8 million, critics said that the figures were an illusion. Insurance companies had warned that not everybody picking a plan on or one of the state exchanges was going to pay their premiums. With Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials unable or unwilling to provide data on the payup rates, critics assumed the worst. At one point, House Republicans put out a report suggesting that only two-thirds of people selecting coverage were paying up.

That report was misleading in obvious ways and insurance executives said, publicly, that the payup rate was likely to be at least 80 percent and probably closer to 90. Charles Gaba, the blogger who compiled a frighteningly accurate record of predicting enrollment, made the case that paid enrollment was still high. It didn't dampen the conservative skepticism. Bogus Obamacare numbers took their place in the pantheon of conservative conspiracy theories, right alongside Behghazi. Senator John Barrasso accused the Administration of "cooking the books."

On Thursday, HHS finally offered an official assessment. As of August, the department says, paid enrollment was 7.3 million. That's less than 8 million, obviously, but don't take that as a sign that things have gone wrong. As Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress notes, the insurance market isn't static. Some people will change their insurance coverage during the course of a year, because they pick up or leave jobs that offer benefits. 

Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, offers a similar assessment:

If you're an Obamacare dectractor, there are plenty of arguments that you can make legitimately. You can say the coverage is not generous enough or, if you're more conservatively inclined, that it's too generous. You can say the law's payment reforms too gentle on the health care industry—or too tough. You can object to one of the mandates, just on principle, or wish it were a single-payer system. But one thing you can't say is that the enrollment numbers are bogus. They look like the real thing.