The more reporters examine Americans for Prosperity's recent series of Obamacare horror story ads, the more the group's arguments fall apart. The first video, which attacks Michigan's Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Gary Peters, features a woman who says her out of pocket costs went way up because Obamacare cancelled her old plan. As The Washington Post reported Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity has released documentation supporting the claims made in the initial video, but the fact is the ad paints a much bleaker picture than the reality. (Update: Politifact weighed in, writing that the Boonstra ad "is, at worst, misleading and, at best, lacking critical context.") At the same time, the ads do get some things right.
As we've seen in the past, Obamacare horror stories tend to pick and choose details to fit a narrative. Generation Opportunity encouraged young people to opt-out of Obamacare, but never worked out the math that made opting-out cheaper. The girl who said Obamacare "raped" her future qualified for subsidies and Medicaid. Based on the direct and implied claims made in these the ads, here's how misleading they actually are.
Julie Boonstra, attacking Rep. Gary Peters
I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a 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.
Direct Claim: "My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare."
Her old plan wasn't compliant and was canceled. True.
Implied: Julie's out-of-pocket costs are high, so insurance is "unaffordable"
Americans for Prosperity is a little deceitful in the way it makes some of its claims. It cites articles pointing to general trends and implies that the results follow for the person in the ad. "Consumers may have to dig a little deeper into their wallets to pay for health care in the Obamacare insurance exchanges, according to a new analysis by Avalere Health," read a September Politico article.
Last week The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler found that Julie's insurance premiums are way down, so if you compare her old premium and out-of-pocket costs with her new ones, they're about the same.
She's not paying more, but her payments are now unpredictable. If she has a sudden medical expense that costs $6,000, then she has to come up with that in a short period of time. As she told Fox News:
"Under my old policy, I knew what I could afford every single month because I wasn't hit with extra charges. Now I don't know what I have to pay month to month," she said. "Leukemia tests are extremely expensive."
If she had a zero deductible plan she'd pay the same, but spread out over 12 months. Julie's new plan poses the risk of being unaffordable, but the Americans for Prosperity ads state that risk as a fact.
Implied: Julie lost her doctor
"I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan," makes it seem like she lost both. She didn't.
Helen DePrima attacking Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter
When we lost our secondary healthcare plan because of Obamacare, we were shocked ... Now my out of pocket costs for prescriptions are much higher. Some of my medications may not be covered. Obamacare isn't working for us.
Direct Claim: "My out of pocket costs for prescriptions are much higher"
Her plan has a higher out-of-pocket cost. We know from Julie's ad that Americans for Prosperity doesn't think it's relevant to mention lower premium costs in the face of higher out-of-pocket costs.
Implied: Helen DePalma's medications won't be covered
Some bronze plans offer limited coverage of doctors visits and prescription drugs. Whether Helen DePalma picked one of those plans isn't clear — again, she's referring to a trend, not her own situation. Apparently she doesn't know yet if her medicine is covered.
Implied: Helen DePalma is not a GOP activist and donor
By appearing in an ad about Obamacare's impact on her life, you might assume that she would mention that she's heavily biased. And yet, as The Huffington Post noted, DePalma has campaigned for Republican candidates and attended a fundraiser for Ted Cruz. She also called for the repeal of Obamacare back in 2012.
But that shouldn't matter, according to Americans for Prosperity. A spokesman told The Huffington Post, "I have no doubt that a few desperate shills for ObamaCare will try to discredit Donna (Marzullo) and Helen for their political views, but their negative views of the law are a direct result of the negative impact ObamaCare has had on their health care."
Donna Marzullo's ad raises the same questions — she's worried about whether she can keep her doctors and hospitals, but that's a talking point. The misleading thing about these ads is that they try to put a human face (and sad music) to costs that some Americans have experience, just not the Americans featured in the videos.