Confused About Argument by Anecdote

Politicians frequently argue by anecdote.  I don't generally find this compelling -- after all, one can find an anecdote about just about anything among 300 million people.

But for those who do believe that an anecdote proves their case -- doesn't a reversal of fortune within that anecdote then disprove their case?  How can a particular person's experience be entirely generalizable, and then suddenly not be so when the facts change?

Back in October, Sanford had written a letter to the White House to share her good news. The 48-year-old single mother of a teenage son diagnosed with ADHD had just purchased what she considered to be affordable insurance on the Washington state exchange....

Her heartfelt letter made it to the President's hands and then into his October 21 speech.

"'I was crying the other day when I signed up. So much stress lifted.'" Obama said, reading from Sanford's letter.

The president said Sanford's story was proof, despite the technical problems with the website, that the Affordable Care Act was working....

But then, after Obama mentioned her story, Sanford started having problems. Sanford said she received another letter informing her the Washington state health exchange had miscalculated her eligibility for a tax credit.

In other words, her monthly insurance bill had shot up from $198 a month (she had initially said $169 a month to the White House but she switched plans) to $280 a month for the same "gold" plan offered by the state exchange....

Last week, Sanford received another letter from the Washington state exchange, stating there had been another problem, a "system error" that resulted in some "applicants to qualify for higher than allowed health insurance premium tax credits."...

The result was a higher quote, which Sanford said was for $390 per month for a "silver" plan with a higher deductible. Still too expensive

A cheaper "bronze" plan, Sanford said, came in at $324 per month, but also with a high deductible - also not in her budget.

Then another letter from the state exchange with even worse news.

"Your household has been determined eligible for a Federal Tax Credit of $0.00 to help cover the cost of your monthly health insurance premium payments," the latest letter said.


  1. MingoV:

    Are multi-government problems additive or multiplicative?

    The state of Washington's ObamaCare system seems just as messed up as the federal one. This anecdote above supports a multiplicative rule. If the federal government (compared with the private sector) is four times more likely to screw you and the state government is two times more likely to screw you, then the combination is eight times more likely to screw you.

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Are multi-government problems additive or multiplicative?"

    Niether, they are exponential. State^Feds so the combination is 32 times more likely to screw you.

  3. marque2:

    I am going to try to sign up this weekend. Wish me luck. The CA exchange is the only one working - which is a plus (I guess)
    CA held out bids for the Obamacare - the companies that didnt win are barred from issuing new policies until 2017 - so there is effectively no private market. 11/33 companies made the cut. And I thought this was suppose to increase competition. How does barring 2/3 of the insurance companies increase competition?

  4. CP:

    Always remember, the plural of anecdote is not data.

  5. Quincy:

    California economic logic. Obviously, those other companies would just be offering choices that would confuse consumers. Consumers need a few, very similar, state-blessed choices for a market to function optimally by this logic. This is why California is an economic powerhouse generating far superior results to those barbaric laissez-faire states like, say, Texas. (/sarc)

  6. jimcraq:

    Anecdotes count only when they support your case. When they don't, they're irrelevant exceptions.

  7. MNHawk:

    If a single mother, that means household of at least two, is ineligible for a subsidy, that means her household income is north of $60,000. In what world can't someone who makes that much, afford $4,700 for something as basic as health care?

  8. marque2:

    Who knows, though, how much the administrators messed up. She could be eligible, but they are giving her bad info. Lots of folks were given rates too low and too high.

  9. marque2:

    Interesting you should bring up Texas. I live in California, but I am working in Texas, because I couldn't find a job in CA in a quick enough amount of time. No contracts were available. I fly home about once a month to visit the wife and kids. I would love to move them to Texas, but it isn't worth it for a one year firm (no extensions) contract.

    Note too, when I looked a few weeks ago, I didn't have 11 choices either on the CA system. I had three. Instead of having statewide insurance programs, many are local. I had a choice of "they will kill you" Kaiser, Blue Cross, and Sharp medical. Sharp medical is a hospital group, only in San Diego area.

  10. kidmugsy:

    "Back in October, Sanford had written a letter to the White House to share her good news." Obsequious creep.

  11. Brad Warbiany:

    I'm not going to fault them too badly on that strategy. Their goal is basically to force the insurance companies to sharpen their pencils up front to get to lower costs. If you allow the losing companies to resubmit new bids each year, it creates a strategy by which all providers can shoot for higher pricing and the penalty for missing out is only a year's worth of enrollees.

    By adding a 3-year lockout, the optimal strategy for an insurance company is that the reward of several YEARS of revenue vs. no revenue at all, AND the reward of your competitors being locked out during that time, is sufficient to allow them to cut their own margin.

    Did the strategy work? I'm not sure. I don't have enough data to make that call. But I see the logic behind the strategy and I'm not going to knock them for that.

  12. Brad Warbiany:

    $4700, with a deductible probably around $4.5K individual / $9K family for Bronze ($2K/$4K for silver), and max out-of pocket of over $6K per person / $12K per family per year.

    Now, the deductible and total out of pocket may not be reached if she and her son are healthy. But as a father of a son with autism, I can tell you that I hit my family deductible ($3750) in about the first 3 months of the fiscal year, and while my plan pays 90% of everything in-network until I hit total in-network out-of-pocket of $6K, I hit that last year and will probably do so again.

    I consider myself VERY lucky that I have insurance through my employer. Total out-of-pocket healthcare for me comes out to about $11K/year right now when I include premiums, deductible and max out-of-pocket. According to the CoveredCA site, I'd probably end up paying about $18K/year for Bronze, and about $20K/year for Gold or Platinum, and that's assuming ONLY that my son needs medical care. If my other son, my daughter, and my wife or I need care, those costs could escalate quickly.

    As an aside, for people with high incomes (i.e. don't qualify for subsidies) and large families, Platinum is the way to go. The fact that there's no deductible would make it likely to be a cheaper plan for my family than Gold. Even without the autism, kids need a lot more healthcare than adults, so they'd probably rack up out-of-pocket covered at 90% at such a slow rate that it's preferable to even a $2/person deductible.

  13. Brad Warbiany:

    (Correction - Where I said bronze above for my own $18K number, I was referring to Silver. Sorry for the confusion).

  14. marque2:

    It is working great - several of the losing companies have already pulled out of the market for non viability. Expect more to do so since about 60% of their private clients.were also pulled from them and forced on exchanges as part of their " you may keep your existing plan" program. So if they don't have a lot of company business they are out of here soon as well.

    No- one is going to stick around and lose their shirts for three years waiting for the next 33% shot of getting in.

  15. Gdn:

    Before signing up, consider the effect the site being designed without significant security architecture may have on your chances for identity theft. It's up to you, but beware of the risk. The below link includes Congressional testimony from security experts:

    Also note that the guy in charge of certifying that it meets Federal security rules for a government website resigned rather than sign off on it.

  16. rst1317:

    I'm not sure why you would think the CA exchange is working. Most of the exchanges, if not all, of the state run exchanges are working. The question is, as we saw with WA, how well are they working?

  17. Steve-O:

    Kids need more healthcare than adults? Up to what age?

  18. Brad Warbiany:

    All I know is that my kids seem to have doctor's appointments, well check-ups, and go to the doctor when they get sick all the time, and I haven't been to the doctor in about 4 years...

  19. rst1317:

    MNHawk, the question is not if they can afford that much for health care but if they can afford that much for insurance. Spending $ on insurance does not mean they'll receive an equal value in terms of health care.