For much of the fall, when major news organizations went into feeding-frenzy mode over the Affordable Care Act, an unsettling pattern emerged. The media kept shining a spotlight on various “horror stories” – regular Americans adversely affected by “Obamacare” – and those stories kept crumbling when subjected to scrutiny.
The problem persists. Reader R.B. passed along this striking report from Maggie Mahar, who explained that many of the “tales of Obamacare’s innocent victims … just aren’t true.”
Yesterday I posted about a Fort Worth Star Telegram article that leads with the tale of Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old new mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Her insurer just cancelled her policy, and according to Johnson, new insurance would cost her over $1,000 a month.
That claim stopped me in my tracks. Under the ACA, no 26-year-old could be charged $1,000 monthly – even if she has MS.
Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges. At that point, I knew that something was wrong.
And something was. The Star-Telegram piece profiled four local consumers, three of whom are Tea Party activists, and two of whom hadn’t bothered to even check what’s available through healthcare.gov. They were described as “losers” under the new system, but made no effort to see if they might be winners.
What’s more, the 26-year-old new mother who was facing a $1,000-a-month insurance plan actually ended up with coverage just under $350 a month – a detail the paper has never conveyed to readers – and a stronger safety net than her family enjoyed before.
The local reporter eventually told Mahar that she doesn’t usually cover health care, doesn’t know much about the Affordable Care Act, was busy covering other stories, and had a day and a half to put the article together. She also didn’t realize in advance that most of her sources for the piece were Tea Party activists opposed to the law itself.
And when that same reporter later suggested to her editors a follow-up piece on the area’s Obamacare “winners,” they weren’t interested.
The point, of course, isn’t to pick on one reporter or one newspaper. Rather, the larger takeaway is that ACA horror stories aren’t always as horrible as they may appear. Indeed, in this case, the Star-Telegram article was promoted by prominent Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner and Sean Hannity, despite the fact that the piece was wrong.
What’s more, this keeps happening. Arit John highlighted a series of discredited stories about alleged ACA victims. “At the root of every debunked, cancelled plan, Obamacare ‘horror story,” John wrote, “is usually a person who isn’t as informed as he or she would like to believe.”
As we’ve discussed before, it’s worth emphasizing that there are, in reality, Americans who’ve been adversely affected by health care reform. In a nation of 314 million people, it will be possible to find some who didn’t benefit as much as everyone else. It’s inevitable.
But in the rush to condemn the law, the public has been confronted repeatedly with anecdotal evidence that’s completely fallen apart. Worse, consumers invariably hear more about the horror stories than the follow-up reports proving the horror stories wrong.
If the Affordable Care Act were really as awful as the right claims, shouldn’t it be easier to find genuine examples of Obamacare’s “losers”?