I'm not sure which it is since I never met the guy, but it really is tiresome to see people try to pass off as a serious argument on health care something that anyone with any knowledge on the topic knows to be false. In a column touting the virtues of health savings accounts, so that we can all do comparison shopping for our colonoscopies, Stephens pronounced Obamacare a failure.
He notes the high rate increases in the last two years for insurance plans offered on the exchanges (ignoring the fact that the costs were originally below projections, so that premiums are now roughly in line with the projections from before the plan was passed). He then tells readers:
"Same deal for employer-sponsored plans. 'While Sen. Obama promised during his campaign in 2008 that the average family would see health insurance premiums drop by $2,500 per year, the average family premium for employer-sponsored coverage has risen by $3,671,' noted Maureen Buff and Timothy Terrell in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. That was back in 2014, and premiums continue to rise."
Okay Obama's $2,500 drop in premium number was relative to a growing baseline. This was completely obvious at the time and was apparent to anyone who spend two seconds looking at the projections. Health care costs had been rising 6 to 7 percent annually for decades. Obama was not saying that his plan would reverse this pattern and actually cause costs to decline. He was talking about costs relative to the baseline projection of growth. (Costs actually have dropped relative to baseline projections even more than Obama projected, although it is debatable how much the Affordable Care Act is responsible.)
Everyone following the debate fully understood that Obama was making his claim relative to a baseline of rising cost growth, since it would have been completely absurd for him to claim he would actually cause premiums to fall in nominal terms. If Stephens is unaware of this fact, his level of ignorance on health care is truly astounding. Alternatively he could just be lying, deliberately misrepresenting Obama's promises to score a cheap political point.
Either way, it doesn't speak well for Stephens. I know the NYT has an affirmative action policy for conservatives, but this is ridiculous.