Maybe there are no genuine Obamacare horror stories


Kevin Drum wonders whether there’s a single genuine Obamacare horror story out there, given that virtually every yarn promoted by Republicans or conservatives about people hurt by the Affordable Care Act has deflated like a pricked balloon on the merest examination.

It’s a very good question, inspired by the latest horror story bloomer -- the tale of one Julie Boonstra of Michigan, wholesaled by the Koch-founded conservative organization Americans for Prosperity. In a political ad being run by AFP against a Democratic senate candidate in Michigan, Boonstra asserts that “Obamacare” has made her leukemia treatment “unaffordable” and “jeopardized” her health.

But when Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post checked out her story, he found it didn’t hold up. The Affordable Care Act provided her with cheaper coverage than she had before, while allowing her to keep her doctor and maintain her treatment. Kessler didn’t mention it, but Boonstra plainly benefits from another provision of the ACA: the ban on exclusions for preexisting conditions. Patients living in the pre-ACA world of individual health insurance with conditions like leukemia were constantly in danger of losing their coverage and becoming uninsurable. That’s not legal anymore.


Boonstra’s case is just the latest of a very long line of deflatable horror stories. We’ve debunked a passel of them here, from Florida resident Diane Barrette, who didn’t realize she’d been empowered by the ACA to move from a costly junk insurance plan to a cheaper real insurance plan; to Los Angeles real estate agent Deborah Cavallaro, whose “unaffordable” premiums turned out to be eminently affordable; to San Diego business owner Edie Sundby, whose cancer coverage was safeguarded by Obamacare after her insurer bailed out on her for financial reasons; to “Bette,” the supposed victim trotted out by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in her response to the State of the Union message last month, and who turned out to be an ACA “victim” because she couldn’t be bothered actually to investigate her options for affordable care on the Washington state enrollment website.

And there are many more, including the extremely dubious personal narratives of House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Tom Coburn.

What a lot of these stories have in common are, first of all, a subject largely unaware of his or her options under the ACA or unwilling to determine them; and, second, shockingly uninformed and incurious news reporters, including some big names in the business, who don’t bother to look into the facts of the cases they’re offering for public consumption. (I’m talking about you, Maria Bartiromo.)

What’s odd about this is that any reporter who has covered the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which Lord knows hasn’t been perfect, is aware of numerous cases of individuals or families who are paying more for coverage this year than last, and possibly for less coverage than they had before.

These often aren’t “horror” stories in the sense of people genuinely left without coverage options, and in almost every case these are people for whom the ACA offers positive improvements in their access to health insurance along with the negatives; often they simply don’t discern the positives or don’t value them to the same extent that they’re dismayed by the price.

Often this is because they’re healthy, and healthy people may not recognize how valuable health insurance will be if and when they become ill or injured. The health insurance landscape in the U.S. is very uneven terrain, though plainly less uneven now than it was before the ACA was enacted.


But you don’t see these nuanced narratives being offered by the anti-Obamacare lobby, perhaps because they are nuanced. Much easier to gin up a scare story out of whole cloth, exploiting a willing patient and a careless news reader. This is how an American public gets convinced that a program manifestly in their best interests is something bad.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.


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