Opinion

Are the Obamacare sob stories really adding up?

AJ Delgado Author, Why It's Cool To Be A Conservative
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Before you shriek at the headline, fellow conservative, slow your roll: I am referring to the Obamacare stories the media is selecting to highlight.

For some bizarre reason, despite the plethora of disturbing stories and awful fallout surrounding Obamacare’s effects, conservative-friendly media continues to miss key opportunities by highlighting tales of woe that, well, are not exactly tales of woe.

Last month, Salon’s Eric Stern fact-checked a Hannity episode that featured guests whose lives or businesses were negatively impacted by Obamacare. Stern went through each case, essentially discrediting each guest’s horror story. The results were devastating. Most damning of all was the following:

First I spoke with Paul Cox of Leicester, N.C.  He and his wife Michelle had lamented to Hannity that because of Obamacare, they can’t grow their construction business and they have kept their employees below a certain number of hours, so that they are part-timers. Obamacare has no effect on businesses with 49 employees or less. But in our brief conversation on the phone, Paul revealed that he has only four employees. Why the cutback on his workforce? “Well,” he said, “I haven’t been forced to do so, it’s just that I’ve chosen to do so. I have to deal with increased costs.” What costs? And how, I asked him, is any of it due to Obamacare? There was a long pause, after which he said he’d call me back. He never did. There is only one Obamacare requirement that applies to a company of this size: workers must be notified of the existence of the “healthcare.gov” website, the insurance exchange. That’s all.

But trotting out Obamacare sob stories that do not quite add up continues (perhaps because they make for more scintillating examples than those that do add up?). The latest is a November 20th Wall Street Journal op-ed that has gone viral, entitled: “Obamacare Forced Mom Into Medicaid.” The writer explains that her 52-year-old mother received a notice that, due to Obamacare, her current insurance policy, for which she pays $276 per month, would be discontinued at the end of the year, and the new policy would be $415 per month. In a Facebook post lamenting her new circumstances, the woman bemoans: “Now I can’t afford health insurance.”

The author writes that many other Americans are, like her mom, seeing “radical” increases in premiums and deductibles (her mother’s deductible increased by $1,500 a year).

While not exactly a ‘radical’ increase, as described, a $139 a month is indeed a significant chunk of cash for many of us.

But here is where the op-ed gets interesting. The woman signed onto healthcare.gov and was offered a policy for … $0 per month. That’s right, $0. She qualifies for Medicaid.

Most of us would be jumping for joy. By my calculations, she’s now saving $276 per month. Medicaid is not the best policy, to put it lightly, but if you are an individual for whom an extra $139 is make-or-break (as it is for this woman, who claimed the added cost meant she could now no longer afford her health insurance), wouldn’t any reasonable person take the free Medicaid?

Apparently not. The writer describes her mother’s shock:

“How has it come to this?” she asked in one of our several talks over the past few weeks about what was happening. When she was a working mother and I was young, she easily carried health insurance for our whole family. “How have I fallen this far?”

OK, this is getting awkward. “Fallen this far?”

You must be thinking: “But hey, it’s completely understandable that she does not want Medicaid. Private insurance care is superior.” Sure, except her private plan was only a “bare bones catastrophic” plan and, if that’s all you seek, who wouldn’t take the free Medicaid?

Then she explains her reasoning further: “I think that we should be able to take care of ourselves and to earn enough money to pay for basics, and health insurance is one of them,” she says. So is this complaint really about not wanting to be on the healthcare dole? Or is it some sort of expectation that private insurance must be cheaper? Is this really a tale conservatives should rally behind?

It goes on: “Before this, she had never been, in effect, ordered to take a handout. Now she has been forced to join the government-reliant poor, though she would prefer to contribute her two mites.”

Oh, come on. If she feels that strongly about contributing, she can send a check to the government, as we conservatives always remind the liberal celebrities who complain their tax rates are not high enough. And here’s a question worth asking: does this mother consider adults who are, for instance, on Medicare, as living off the dole if they choose to take advantage of the program rather than pay for a private policy?

In a nutshell, none of this story makes sense and certainly doesn’t fit the bill of an anti-Obamacare rallying cry. The right has run with it anyway, including Fox News contributor Guy Benson, tweeting a link to the story with: “An elderly woman, robbed of her dignity. God, this is sad.” Really? Going from paying $276 a month for a ‘catastrophic-only’ policy to $0 a month for Medicaid (which includes both catastrophic and routine care) is depressing? Benson later clarified: “Actually, the woman in this story is just 52 years old. Which actually makes it worse.” Not sure how that makes it worse.

My point here is not to discredit this woman or cast doubt on her story. She certainly seems to have an admirable spirit. But the media – and conservatives – should be a bit more selective in terms of which Obamacare horror stories they choose to highlight – because stories like this, and that of the Hannity guests, only help. I can already hear the jeers of “That’s the best sob story you got, conservatives?! A low-income woman who had no employer-provided insurance now has free healthcare?”

While sob stories about Obamacare are an easy way for a mom-and-pop store to get on national TV, or for a writer to get an op-ed published, a bit of healthy skepticism in asking whether a story actually aids the battle against Obamacare, before featuring it, would be prudent.