Update: Julie Boonstra’s claim her Obamacare plan is ‘unaffordable’ gets downgraded to Three Pinocchios

“My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable.”

–Michigan resident Julie Boonstra, in an ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, attacking Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), a candidate for the Senate, released in February

“Because of Obamacare, I am now stuck with a plan that doesn’t work for me. My choice was taken away from me.”

–Boonstra, in a new ad released in early March

Take a close look at the subtle difference in the language of these two ads sponsored by the limited-government group Americans for Prosperity. The first ad claimed the out-of-pocket costs were so high that “it’s unaffordable.” When that line was questioned—and Democrats demanded proof be given to television stations running the ad—the issue became much fuzzier. Suddenly, it became “a plan that doesn’t work for me.” That is much more subjective and harder to fact check.

We originally awarded the Boonstra ad Two Pinocchios, pending new information. We are now ready to update the ruling, having given AFP ample time to document its claims.

The Facts

The problem with the original ad was  two-fold. First, Boonstra, a cancer patient, suggested she had lost her “wonderful doctor” when in fact she could keep that doctor in the new plan. Second, her premiums were cut in half, from $1,100 a month to $571, and the savings were slightly more than the out-of-pocket costs permitted under the health care law. So it seemed highly suspicious that the costs were “unaffordable.”

We were led to believe that she had a Silver individual plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield but were not able to determine her actual plan, as AFP declined to document her claim.  Instead, it merely asserted that her costs may be unpredictable in the future.

In an interview with the Dexter Leader responding to our column, Boonstra said: “People are asking me for the numbers and I don’t know those answers — that’s the heartbreak of all of this. It’s the uncertainty of not having those numbers that I have an issue with.”

On March 10, however, the Detroit News reported that Boonstra admitted that she had Premier Gold plan. That has an out-of-pocket cap of $5,100 a year.

In other words, her old plan cost $13,200 a year—before co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses. The new plan is $11,952—including co-pays and out of pocket expenses. That’s a savings of more than $1,200 a year.

Boonstra’s response to this report was that it  “can’t be true” because she was worried about high expenses early in the year and because she thought one of her prescription drugs was not covered. A spokesman for Blue Cross told the News that all of her prescriptions are covered and her co-pays on the drugs would help with meeting her out-of-pocket maximum.

In the meantime, her premium savings are building up every month. If the initial out-of-pocket costs were too high, she likely could have worked out a payment plan. But it is puzzling this still would be a mystery to her more than two months into the new plan.

Update, April 7: We recommend to readers a very detailed look at Boonstra’s situation by Uri Manor, a postgraduate fellow at the National Institutes of Health

The Pinocchio Test

The president’s false Four-Pinocchio claim that people could keep their plans if they liked them has formed the core of many of AFP’s claims. We understand that change can be confusing and that Boonstra was annoyed at having to sign up for a new plan. But it appears she jumped on television without trying to understand the basics about her new coverage. (Initially, she even seemed to believe she would have to pay 20 percent of the cost of a $350,000 bone marrow transplant, when in fact everything above the out-of-pocket maximum would be covered.)

In any case, one cannot claim that a plan is “unaffordable” when over the course of the year it will provide you with substantial savings. Thus we are changing the rating on this ad from Two Pinocchios to Three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

 


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Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. He would like your help in keeping an eye on public figures. Send him statements to fact check by emailing him, tweeting at him, or sending him a message on Facebook.
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