This one really should have been a layup for Donald Trump. The Obama administration confirmed Monday afternoon that insurance premiums on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces are set to rise 22 percent in 2017. While one can debate just how bad that news truly is (I’d say: medium bad), it should be easy fodder for critics who would like to repeal the health reform law. All a politician has to do is make noise about skyrocketing costs and—one way or another—promise to fix them.
And yet Trump has somehow made a hash of this straightforward task. On Monday, during an event at Trump National Doral Miami resort, the Republican nominee told his crowd that “all of my employees are having a tremendous problem with Obamacare.” He then added, “You look at what they’re going through with their health care is horrible because of Obamacare. So we’ll repeal it and replace it.” This was odd. Trump seemed to imply that his workers didn’t receive health benefits, since Obamacare’s exchanges are specifically meant for those who don’t get insurance through their employers. But reporters have previously confirmed that Trump’s full-time hotel staff do get health care, and the general manager of National Doral Miami told Politico that 95 percent of the resort’s employees were covered through the company. And indeed, when reporters asked a departing Trump whether his workers were actually on Obamacare, he said, “Some of them, but most of them, no.”
So maybe Trump was just exaggerating when he said “all” of his employees were having trouble with Obamacare—gilding the lily, as he is wont to do. Or maybe he really meant to say, “all of my part-time employees who rely on Obamacare are having trouble with it.” Perhaps it was sloppy shorthand.
But then came this exchange on Fox News on Tuesday.
It is unclear, based on these comments, whether Trump actually knows what Obamacare is. When he says, “I don’t use much Obamacare,” and “I spend more money on health coverage, but we don’t use it,” he makes it sound as if Obamacare is some sort insurance plan that employers typically purchase for their employees. It is not. Again, the Affordable Care Act set up a series of online exchanges where Americans could buy heavily regulated coverage on the individual market if they didn’t get insurance through their job. While small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees can provide coverage to their workers through Healthcare.gov’s SHOP marketplace, there is no reason a company as large as the Trump Organization would ever “use much Obamacare.”
To be fair, Trump has previously made comments that suggest he has some familiarity with the basic structure of Affordable Care Act. For instance, he understands that it involves customers paying premiums, that many of the plans involve large deductibles, and that insurers are required to cover a large number of basic services. There is also at least one charitable way to read his statement from Tuesday. Early on, there was some speculation that many companies would choose to nix their health plans and instead give their employees vouchers to go buy individual coverage on the marketplaces. That hasn’t happened much, and it’s possible Trump was trying to say that he hadn’t done it because of how much Affordable Care Act plans cost. When he talks about the “people who have to use” Obamacare, it implies he might understand that the marketplaces are meant for people who don’t get employer-based coverage, like part-time cleaning staff at a hotel.
But that interpretation requires reading many, many missing words into his half-formed sentences. At this moment, I think it is fair to question what basic facts Trump knows about the law he’s been railing on for an entire presidential campaign. Someone should ask him to explain it, just for fun.
Update October 25, 12:45 pm: This post has been updated to note that small businesses—much smaller than Trump’s companies—can provide coverage through the Healthcare.gov SHOP marketplace.