Cathy McMorris Rodgers (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Paul Krugman has a great item up on “Bette in Spokane,” the woman who was featured in the nationally watched GOP response to the State of the Union speech as a symbol of victimization at the hands of Big Bad Obamacare. As GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers put it in the response, Bette “hoped the President’s health care law would save her money – but found out instead that her premiums were going up nearly $700 a month.”

That does sound awful. But then a local reporter got in touch with Bette Grenier, and found out the story is far more complex than it first appeared. As Krugman puts it:

Her previous plan was catastrophic coverage only, with a $10,000 deductible — and the “$700 a month more” was the most expensive option offered by her insurer. She didn’t go to the healthcare.gov website, where she could have found cheaper plans. So this wasn’t sticker shock, at least as described. This was someone finding out that the ACA requires that you have a minimum level of insurance, and that minimalist plans are no longer allowed — and it was also Ms. Rodgers misrepresenting what had happened.

But this may be a lot worse than Krugman says. Indeed, it may be a case of Republican sabotage of the law actually working.

A Democratic source makes a very good point, arguing that this may actually be better seen as a “Republican sabotage success story.” He points to these details from the report by David Wasson in the Spokesman-Review:

Melanie Colette, McMorris Rodgers’ spokeswoman, would only say Bette is “one of hundreds of people in Eastern Washington that have contacted the congresswoman with their concerns about the president’s health care law.”

Grenier, contacted Wednesday evening at her home, said she didn’t know McMorris Rodgers had mentioned her insurance travails during the GOP rebuttal.

“That probably was me she was referring to,” Grenier said. “A guy from her office called me last week but I never called him back.”

She said she contacted the congresswoman late last year to complain after getting a letter from Asuris Northwest advising that her $552-a-month policy no longer would be offered. She sent the congresswoman’s office a copy of the letter, which included the rate quotes for the suggested replacement policies.

So what really happened here is that this woman contacted Rep. McMorris Rodgers to complain about the health law — and there’s no indication her Congresswoman’s aides pointed her to the exchange or indicated she could have gotten a better deal from it. Perhaps they did; this makes for a good follow-up question. But it’s certainly possible they didn’t. After all, some Republicans have openly said they won’t be helping constituents with the law. Obamacare foes like to say that’s fair game for Republican lawmakers, but even if that were true, the point is that this tactic may be harming their own constituents.

Bette from Spokane, to be sure, might not have used the exchange even if her Congresswoman’s office had pointed her to it. As Bette put it in the local report, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website.” There’s no denying this woman was adversely impacted. But it’s at least possible if she’d been told there were better deals there, she’d have taken advantage of them — and if so, the outcome would have been better for her than what did happen, which is that she’s gone without coverage.

What we do know is that McMorris Rodgers’ office did contact this woman just before the Congresswoman’s big speech citing her. Did her office contact Bette to help her get a better deal, or only to let her know her story would be used against the law in a national setting? Also good fodder for a follow-up question.

One other point: While McMorris Rodgers’ office claims “hundreds” from the region got in touch with concerns about the law, Timothy Egan reports that in her district, signups for coverage on the exchange are well above the national average. This, even though McMorris Rodgers “has been screening town hall meetings to highlight only critics of the new law.”

The case of Bette fits into this very neatly. Even though the exchange could have gotten her a better deal, it was a better political outcome for Republicans that she didn’t avail herself of that option. And precisely because she didn’t, she was turned into a poster woman for Obamacare victimization.

 

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Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.