Four new Americans for Prosperity ads take on Obamacare

Americans for Prosperity, the limited-government group that has spent $35 million attacking Democrats over the Affordable Care Act, released four ads on Tuesday—in New Hampshire, Louisiana, Colorado and Michigan.

Here’s a roundup of fact checks of these ads.

New Hampshire

“New Hampshire is famous for beautiful drives…But they’re tough to enjoy when you are on your way to the doctor—because Obamacare limits your choices.”

This ad makes a number of specific allegations about New Hampshire’s health exchange. As has been widely documented, only one insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, chose to participate. In an effort to keep costs down, it limited providers, such as including access to only 16 of the state’s 26 acute-care hospitals—a fact highlighted in the ad.

The most dubious claim in the ad is a headline, quoting a Forbes magazine blog, saying “Health Care Premiums up 90% in New Hampshire.”  But that factoid has been debunked, both by news outlets in New Hampshire and in extensive detail by our colleagues at FactCheck.org. In essence, the number comes from a single anonymous insurance broker who participated in a survey by Morgan Stanley. By contrast, the New Hampshire Department of Insurance says it anticipated an 8-percent decrease in premiums after subsidies. Before subsidies, premiums on average increased 30 percent. (In general, “average” figures on premiums provide little insight in individual experiences.)

After all, the reason that provider choices were limited in New Hampshire is because Anthem wanted to try to keep costs low. Reducing the number of providers, while boosting premiums by 90 percent, would have been an odd result. Given how the 90-precent number was mocked in the New Hampshire media, one wonders why AFP would even include it. The 90-percent statistic is worthy of Three or even Four Pinocchios, but much of the rest of the ad is accurate, so overall it earns Two.

Two Pinocchios


 

 

 Colorado

 “335,000 Coloradans face health insurance cancellations”

 

Michigan

“225,000 Michiganders’ health plans could be cancelled”

These two ads are basically cookie-cutter ads, with similar images and text, aimed either at incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) or at Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who is running to fill an open Senate seat. They also make vague allegations of people losing doctors or “thousands” of dollars in higher health-care premiums. (After complaints from parents of victims of the July 20, 2012, Aurora movie theater shooting, AFP removed an image in the ad of President Obama and Udall in Colorado after the shootings.)

As we have repeatedly noted, there are winners and losers under the health-care law—and Americans for Prosperity is adept at focusing just on the losers. The numbers on cancellations are also a bit dated, because the Obama administration offered an administrative fix that allowed many plans to be extended for at least another year. Many plans also offered a renewal option with the letter that informed policy-holders that their old plan did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. (Udall, for instance has stressed that 92 percent of people received a renewal option.)

The 225,000 figure for Michigan includes 47,000 policyholders who were offered to stay on a plan carried by Blue Cross Blue Shield.  But AFP is careful to use words like “could” be canceled.

AFP’s Levi Russell said the cancellation numbers are still relevant because many states, such as Colorado, are reluctant to extend the administrative fix for another year, as the Obama administration has requested. That’s because the extension limits the number of people who might join the exchanges.

Neither of these ads has the emotional punch of the AFP ads that have focused on individual victims. On balance, these are Two Pinocchio ads.

Two Pinocchios


 

 

 

Louisiana

“I did two tours in Iraq. Because of my service I was able to get a health care plan that worked for me. So I get a letter from my insurance company that said my insurance costs were going way up because of Obamacare. And oh, by the way, you should be happy about it.”

This is the only new AFP ad that features an actual “victim”—Marine veteran Christopher Schiff. But at the moment, we do not have enough details to evaluate the accuracy of the ad. We tried to reach Schiff at his home and his office, and Russell said details would be forthcoming, but at the moment we only have a statement given to Fox News:

“Christopher had a plan from Assurant Health/Time Insurance Company backed by the USAA. Because of Obamacare, he lost the plan that he chose and liked. That plan was cancelled because of the Affordable Care Act, and his monthly insurance premiums for a similar Obamacare compliant plan increased.”

It is correct that Assurant plans were canceled in Louisiana—and that the company decided not to extend the plans in the state, even after the Obama administration made that an option. The ad implies that Schiff may have gotten a special deal because he was a veteran, but that does not appear to be the case.

In the ad, Schiff said that his insurance costs were “going way up” but we need more detail to determine if that’s accurate. “Way up” suggests something on the order of at least 50 percent. (Googling the phrase we found references to news reports using the phrase along with increases of 58 percent, 128 percent and 50 percent—but obviously there is no dictionary definition.) The statement from AFP simply says his premiums “increased,” which could be anything, and no details are provided on Schiff’s overall out-of-pocket expenses.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), incidentally, recently offered a “spirited defense” of the law in an interview with our colleague Greg Sargent.

This ad will have to earn a rating of  “verdict pending” until we get more information. As readers know, we get suspicious when ad makers are not quick to back up claims made in ads.

Update: AFP provided additional detail:

Late last year, Chris received a letter from the insurer informing him his plan had been cancelled due to ObamaCare and that the replacement plan would carry much higher premiums—$1,488 higher each year with the same high individual deductible of $3,500. Christopher is paying 71% more on a yearly basis for the new Obamacare-compliant Assurant policy he was offered.

Even the cheapest plan offered on the ObamaCare exchange is more expensive than his old plan, has a higher deductible, and doesn’t provide any coverage at all for vision or dental.

Doing the math, that sounds like his old monthly premium was about $173, and it now is $299. We are continuing to try to reach Schiff, but he gave an interview Wednesday night to Fox News in which he said his old premium was $126 a month and now it is $295. That would be an increase of 134 percent, but Russell says Schiff got the figures mixed up; the monthly increase is about $126 a month.

We still do not know how the two plans compare in terms of benefits or total out-of-pocket costs.

Verdict Pending

 


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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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Glenn Kessler | April 23