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An underhanded anti-Obamacare stunt by the California GOP [updated]

PoliticsLaws and LegislationRepublican PartyAffordable Care Act (Obamacare)Crime, Law and JusticeCongressional Budget OfficeConnie Conway

Update, 7:15 a.m. Dec. 3: The California GOP revised its shadow website for the Affordable Care Act roughly two hours after this post first appeared. The site's homepage now carries a direct link to the state insurance exchange Covered California, as well as more prominent links to Covered California on the "Learn More" tab and the "I don’t have insurance" tab. 

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act never stop producing new tricks to undermine the reform's effectiveness. But leave it to California Republicans to reach for the bottom. Their goal appears to be to discredit the act by highlighting its costs and penalties rather than its potential benefits. 

The device chosen by the Assembly's GOP caucus is a website at the address coveringhealthcareca.com. If that sounds suspiciously like coveredca.com, which is the real website for the California insurance exchange, it may not be a coincidence. Bogus insurance websites have sprung up all over, aiming to steer consumers away from legitimate enrollment services. Just a couple of weeks ago California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris shut down 10 bogus insurance sites, some of them with names very similar to the real thing. She must have overlooked the GOP's entry.

To be fair, the California GOP announced its website in August. But some members have recently stepped up their promotion of the site. The site has a featured spot, for example, on the homepage of Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare). Conway's spokeswoman, Sabrina Lockhart, says other members may be pointing their constituents to the site "as a resource" to help them navigate the new law.

If that's so, constituents needing useful information about how to deal with the Affordable Care Act would be well advised to look elsewhere. As an aid to understanding and navigating the Affordable Care Act's new requirements and opportunities for coverage, the GOP site is worse than useless. Finding a link there to the Covered California website, which after all is the main place residents can go to obtain insurance in the individual market, is a chore -- there isn't a link to it at all on the GOP page. 

Instead, you're offered links labeled "I already have health insurance," "I don't have health insurance," or "I'm an employer." The second link, which presumably covers most residents looking for help through the act, leads to a page dominated by a calculator for the penalties imposed for not buying insurance -- not exactly what you need if you're already looking for insurance. If you have the patience, you can find a link to Covered California toward the bottom of the page.

As for the quality of information provided on the site, it's questionable; that's a charitable way of saying that some of it is dead wrong.

For example, the website claims that the Affordable Care Act will increase the federal deficit, asserting that the "non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in a March 2012 report that coverage expenses under the Affordable Care Act will cost the country a total of $1.76 trillion total by 2022 and add over $1 trillion to the federal deficit."

Is that so? The site links to this report by the CBO, which states on page 2 that the act will "on net, reduce budget deficits over the 2012–2021 period." Get it? Reduce the deficit, not add to it. The GOP's nasty trick is to consider only the costs of coverage, without netting out the cost reductions and new revenues in the law. Oh, by the way, the CBO also projects that the ACA will reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States by more than 30 million. That's a plus, by most reckoning.

The GOP website's digest of recent news articles is led, at the moment, by a Wall Street Journal op-ed by a San Diego businesswoman who claimed to be one of Obamacare's "losers." As we pointed out in this closer look at her story, her life may well be saved by the Affordable Care Act's outlawing of insurance exclusions for preexisting conditions. (She's a cancer survivor.)

One can certainly sympathize with the California GOP's desire to become relevant again to the lives of Californians, who have all but voted the party out of existence in the Golden State. Given that California is one of the real bright spots in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, one might think that the state's Republicans would recognize its value to voters, instead of trying to fill their constituents' heads with irrelevancies, misinformation, and misrepresentations. One would be wrong.  

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email. MORE FROM MICHAEL HILTZIK

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