U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz says the health care overhaul signed into law by President Barack Obama will create mountains of paperwork.
In Senate floor remarks on July 30, the Texas Republican said: “According to federal agency estimates, Obamacare will add paperwork burdens totaling nearly 190 million hours or more every year. And … to put that in perspective, Mount Rushmore, which took 14 years to build, could be constructed 1,547 times with the paperwork.”
A Tennessee doctor asked us to investigate that claim. Does the Affordable Care Act of 2010 generate millions of hours of paperwork and how does it relate to the time needed to build Mount Rushmore?
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier directed us to the Obamacare Burden Tracker, an 18-page document issued in February 2013 by the Republican sides of three House committees. It uses paperwork burden estimates provided by six agencies — including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Social Security Administration — to conclude that the Obamacare law will result in 189,822,836 hours of paperwork a year, plus nearly 80 million once-only hours.
Frazier also pointed us to the National Park Service’s website, which says Mount Rushmore was built between Oct. 4, 1927, and Oct. 13, 1941, or a little more than 14 years.
Here is what we take to be the relevant math behind Cruz’s claim: The Burden Tracker’s 189,822,836 hours divided by 24 comes out to 7,909,284.83 days, equal to 21,669.27 years. Divide that by 14 and you find out that during 21,669.27 years, there are 1,547.8 spans of 14 years.
Let’s review the paperwork details, then tackle those mountains.
When we peeked, the Burden Tracker listed 174 separate Obamacare-related paperwork tasks, each one leading to online documentation intended to show the associated paperwork hours.
We found that federal agencies do expect the health care law to result in millions of hours of paperwork burdens, but our spot-checking also found millions of hours’ worth of miscalculations in the tracker.
For instance, the tracker overcounted 6.75 million hours it attributes to additional information that hospitals must report. A document from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says that increase stems partly from a section of the Obamacare law, but also partly from the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. The document also says the 6.75 million hours hospitals spend reporting the information would save them 2.5 million hours they currently put toward giving the same information to accreditation groups.
The tracker also incorrectly counted a preliminary estimate that regulations regarding Medicaid eligibility would generate about 11 million hours of paperwork. Health and Human Services updated that figure in March 2012, predicting it would create more than 21 million hours of paperwork. The tracker lists both the original estimate plus the revised one.
We noticed as well that some of the listed burdens —2,232,386 hours a year — are from a college student loan overhaul rolled into the health care law.
Admittedly, we devoted only a few days to looking over the tracker. Still, it looks like at least 57 million of the listed hours are factually unsupported or insufficiently documented.
When we turned to the second half of Cruz’s statement — that the time spent on Obamacare paperwork could be used to build Mount Rushmore 1,547 times — we spoke to the National Park Service’s Mount Rushmore spokeswoman Maureen McGee-Ballinger.
Cruz’s calculation uses the total number of hours in 14 years — 122,640. That assumes, in effect, that one person created Mount Rushmore by working around the clock for 14 years — or any other scenario getting to the hours’ total.
McGee-Ballinger said that there are no records of how many worker hours went into Mount Rushmore.
Lou Del Bianco, who has researched his grandfather Luigi Del Bianco’s role in carving Mount Rushmore, told us that some of the 400 people who built Mount Rushmore worked only for half a year while others stayed for all 14. Their hours varied greatly, he said, and they didn’t work for about four to six months during the cold winter.
Just to get a handle on how that might affect the numbers, we estimated the total hours if Mount Rushmore had been created by 400 people who each stuck with the project for 12 years, working 40 hours a week (which became the federal standard in 1938) for 32 weeks per year, or about eight months.
We got 6,144,000 hours, which means they could build 30 Mount Rushmores in the Burden Tracker’s 189.8 million hours.
Our ruling: Cruz said the Affordable Care Act would “add paperwork burdens totaling nearly 190 million hours or more every year.” He went on to say that Mount Rushmore could be built 1,547 times over “with the paperwork.”
Based on the 190 million figure, that mount count is ridiculously off, premised on the notion that one person carved the monument around the clock for 14 years.
And about the 190 million hours: The landmark law indeed appears responsible for creating a large amount, at least 75 million hours, of additional paperwork, based on estimates by federal agencies. However, that total is less than half Cruz’s declared number. The tracker that Cruz relied upon has unexplained holes, miscalculates some burdens and folds in paperwork associated with non-health-care programs such as student loan changes.
Cruz’s statement contains an element of truth — that the health care law will generate many millions of hours of paperwork — but his math is off. We rate it Mostly False.
Statement: Obamacare-caused paperwork will annually absorb 190 million hours or more — and Mount Rushmore could be built 1,547 times over “with the paperwork.”