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April 15, 2014

BYRON YORK: Just use real stories in ACA ads

Some conservative political groups have run into trouble making ads that criticize Obamacare. The ads were intended to showcase “horror stories” from the Democrats' national health care overhaul, but instead attracted zealous fact-checking and ferocious pushback from media outlets and liberal activists.

The most striking example is a recent ad from Americans for Prosperity, the organization backed by Charles and David Koch, the conservative businessmen-philanthropists who have emerged as this year's Target No. 1 for Democrats. The ad featured a Michigan woman, Julie Boonstra, who said she had been diagnosed with leukemia and given a 20 percent chance of surviving, but had fortunately found a "wonderful doctor and a great health care plan."

At least, before Obamacare. “I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer,” Boonstra said in the ad, “fighting the leukemia, and then I received the letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it's unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to. It's heartbreaking for me.” The ad ended with Boonstra accusing Michigan Democratic Rep. Gary Peters of jeopardizing her health by voting for the Affordable Care Act.

After the commercial aired, fact-checkers noted that under a new policy available to her through Obamacare, Boonstra would actually have lower premiums. Even with higher deductibles, it all pretty much evened out, or even saved Boonstra some money in the end.

Boonstra countered that out-of-pocket costs – her original complaint – can be incurred quite quickly if she were to need a lot of care, imposing at least a temporary burden she didn't have before Obamacare. And in any event, one cannot expect a patient fighting a terrifying disease to be happy about being thrown into a new system that upends the care structure she has built.

On the other hand, Boonstra and Americans for Prosperity left themselves open to scrutiny of her specific claims.

So here is a suggestion, free of charge, for Americans for Prosperity: Make a few anti-Obamacare ads with factual claims taken entirely from the pages of The New York Times.

The Kochs could start with a recent op-ed by a man named Eric Wee, who just happens to be a former Washington Post reporter. Wee supported Obamacare when it was passed, he explained, but said: “What I didn't count on was that it would make things harder for me and my wife.”

First, the couple's $263-a-month coverage was canceled because it didn't conform to Obamacare requirements. When Wee went shopping on the California exchange, he found the cheapest replacement would be about $620 a month. That included paying for coverage for pediatric vision care, although Wee and his wife do not have children. And since the couple makes more than the $62,040 household limit for adjusted gross income, there will be no Obamacare subsidies for them.

Then Wee needed a new asthma inhaler and a prescription for antibiotics. He “tried frantically to find a medical facility that would take our new Covered California Anthem Blue Cross bronze plan.” No luck; he was told it would be three weeks before he could see a doctor. He tried to get by with over-the-counter medicine instead.

Then Wee and his wife both had to see a physician in January. They thought the doctors were in their new network, but it turned out they weren't. Wee's visit cost him $303 out-of-pocket; his wife's, $918.

“Let's not pretend that this new policy is the affordable health care savior that many of us were hoping for,” Wee concludes. “For us, our new plan is a big financial hit for a product that does not make it any easier to get basic health care.”

In making ads, some conservatives have tried to swing for the fences, searching for cases of spectacular suffering to illustrate Obamacare's damage. But what about focusing on the heavy, if ordinary, burdens the new system is placing on people like Eric Wee and millions of other Americans?

 

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