On September 14 2019, the Facebook page “ChairmanSizer” shared the following meme (archived here), claiming that actor and comedian Tim Allen was quoted as claiming that maintaining the official Affordable Care Act’s website costs more than United States President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall along its border with Mexico:
The text stated, incorrectly:
President Trump’s wall costs less than the Obamacare website. Let that sink in, America.
The meme involved two separate and partly-distinct claims: one holding that Donald Trump’s proposed border wall costs less than the website for the ACA (popularly called Obamacare, after U.S. President Barack Obama), and the second that Allen told Americans as much and to “let that sink in.” A version shared to meme site me.me claimed further that if Allen had said it, it “must be true.”
Eric Trump shared a version of the meme to his Instagram page two days after the Facebook post appeared, on September 16 2019:
Tim Allen was, at the time the meme was shared, having something of a meme-related moment. Not long before the meme above racked up more than a hundred thousand Facebook shares alone in the period of a few days, Allen was the subject of a first meme claiming that he had lauded Trump.
Authorship of the claim was perhaps the easiest to tackle. The quote was pulled from the above-linked rant attributed to Allen, and it appeared on Facebook in March 2019. Allen, once again, did not make any of the statements attributed to him in the meme.
Claim two held that the ACA website cost more than a proposed border wall. On the subject of the cost of the Obamacare website, the Washington Post reported on September 16 2019:
In 2013, we had looked into the question of the cost of the website. It was a difficult number to pin down, but the most recent government estimate was provided in 2014 in a questions-for-the-record document during the confirmation hearings for Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. “It is my understanding that as of February 28, 2014, CMS has obligated a total of approximately $834 million on Marketplace-related IT contracts and interagency agreements,” she said.
But Bloomberg News in 2014 said the cost actually exceeded $2 billion because the government estimate was limited to spending on computer systems whereas Bloomberg included all contracts that could be associated with the website project.
As the Washington Post claimed, a 2014 Bloomberg News article assessed the cost in excess of $2 billion for the ACA website, the purported high-end of estimates for the project. But a 2014 post from The Week aggregated from The Fiscal Times claimed a $4.7 billion total when factoring in state-run websites:
Since 2011, the federal government has spent nearly $4.7 billion to help implement the exchanges, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates. While some exchange websites like Oregon and Massachusetts suffered from nightmarish technical issues, others performed quite well.
That article noted that state exchanges (as of May 2014) required additional work, and that some simply deferred to Healthcare.gov:
A handful of state-run exchange websites — which cost nearly half a billion dollars to build — still don’t work, nearly seven months after they first went live … Meanwhile, Oregon’s website, which already cost $259 million, is so troubled that the state has opted to scrap the site entirely and spend an extra $5 million to use Healthcare.gov instead.
In those figures, individual state healthcare exchanges were included in the $4.7 million total, and the bulk of that money covered state websites (not “the Obamacare website,” or Healthcare.gov). An August 2014 report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) estimated the total value of all contracts topping out at $1.7 billion. Trump claimed the cost of Healthcare.gov totaled $5 billion in 2015, but that number was not substantiated.
The most recent cost totals for the Obamacare website we could locate were published in 2014. The upper-end cost for Healthcare.gov (the “Obamacare website”) appeared to be just under or at $2 billion; factoring in state health insurance websites could charitably bring that number up to $4.7 billion (no other calculation we found used that higher number as a total cost, or included state-run exchanges in the cost of Healthcare.gov since the state sites included state and not federal programs).
Like the sum total of the website cost, the actual cost of Trump’s proposed wall exists in a massive range of cost estimates. In late 2015, then-candidate Trump told Chuck Todd he estimated a cost of between $6 and $7 billion. By February 2016, estimates as provided by a campaigning Trump had risen:
The wall is going to cost a fraction of that, maybe $10 billion or $12 billion, and it’s going to be a real wall. It’s going to be a high wall. It’s going to be a beautiful — it’s going to be a wall that works.
By February 2017, that number had risen again; at that point, Republicans estimated its cost at between $12 billion and $18 billion. A Department of Homeland Security internal report estimated its cost at $21.6 billion. The meme likely resulted from a $5.7 billion sum reported during a late 2018 and early 2019 government shutdown over the wall. Not long after that, in March 2019, Trump requested an additional $8.6 billion for the wall project.
A meme spotted as early as March 2019 claimed that “President Trump’s wall costs less than the Obamacare website,” which evidently did not catch on and then was later wrongly attributed to actor Tim Allen, after an entire rant misattributed to him went viral in September 2019.
Claims that Trump’s wall was less expensive than the Obamacare website appeared to both originate with U.S. President Donald Trump. The claim that the Obamacare website cost “$5 billion” was made by then-candidate Trump in 2015; the highest credible estimate was $2 billion, but one source factoring in state websites topped out at $4.7 billion. Trump requested $5.7 billion for his wall during a government shutdown when the meme appeared in March 2019, but even Trump has not claimed that the total cost of his wall is $5.7 billion. He estimated his wall would cost between $6 billion and $12 billion, but DHS estimated $21.6 billion in an internal report.
Even using the incorrect higher figure of $4.7 billion for the Obamacare website, which we already know is more than twice the highest reasonable estimate, the lowest estimate for the wall made by Trump himself early on in his campaign was actually $6 billion — higher than the artificially high number of $4.7 billion for the Obamacare website. This claim is untrue on all counts.