More Obamacare horror stories: Do they add up?

In the latest in its ongoing, multi-million-dollar barrage of anti-Obamacare ads, the Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity is up with an expensive buy featuring new spots attacking two House Dems in New Hampshire. Like previous ones, both ads star people who say they’ve been victimized by the law.

But if you watch both spots carefully, you’ll note something interesting: Both ads refrain from making any kind of pronouncement about the law’s overall impact on the people it features.

This looks like a shift from the AFP ad featuring a cancer victim in Michigan that has drawn so much attention. In that ad, Julie Boonstra claimed she’d lost her old plan due to Obamacare, and that her new plan has led to out of pocket costs that are so high, her new plan is “unaffordable.” When Glenn Kessler debunked the claim, he noted that her premiums had come down so much that overall costs were probably a wash.

That ad met an aggressive response from Democrats, with Gary Peters, the Dem Senate candidate in Michigan, calling on some TV stations to pull the ad until AFP presents “factual support for its claims.”

The new AFP ads carefully skirt making any such claim along the lines of the one Boonstra made. Here is the spot hitting Dem Rep. Carol Shea-Porter:

And here is the spot hitting Dem Rep. Annie Kuster:

The woman in the first ad claims that her out of pocket costs for prescription drugs have gone up, and that some medicines “may” not be covered. But unlike the Boonstra ad, it doesn’t say anything about her overall costs being unaffordable. For all we know, if her replacement plan had lower premiums, her overall costs may be a wash (as they appear to be for Boonstra) or they may have even gone down. In contrast to Boonstra — who did make a blanket claim about the law’s overall impact on her finances, which led to the ad being debunked – this New Hampshire woman doesn’t say one way or the other what the overall impact has been.

The second ad, meanwhile, features a woman claiming she is “not even sure if I can keep my doctor or go to the hospital of my choice.” In fairness, this appears to be a real issue in New Hampshire, where there is only one insurer offering plans on the exchange, which has resulted in a narrowing of networks. But we still have no way of knowing what her overall experience from the law has been.

Both ads lean very heavily on the false claim by Obama and some Dems that if you like your plan, you can keep it. Republicans are hitting this falsehood with the strategic goal of undermining the credibility of Dems in a broader sense, separate from more focused questions about the law’s actual impact on people. For all I know this could work — perhaps Dems are vulnerable to this attack.

But the point is, in ads like these, the charge is basically that any disruption from health reform is a bad thing, because it creates uncertainty. (Never mind that conservative and Republican health care reform ideas would also cause disruptions.) What’s being left unstated is whether the overall tale befits its designation as another “Obamacare horror story.” In the case of the two ads above, if we knew their full stories, perhaps their overall experiences would be demonstratively a net negative. But those full stories are not being told.

And so, the case against Obamacare, in these ads, rests heavily on the initial falsehood and the generalized claim of subsequent uncertainty to create the overall impression of untold numbers of people getting shafted by it.

In this context, it’s crucial to understand that a key part of this campaign is to actively dissuade comprehensive factual examination of these victims’ stories. And so, in some narratives, key details are left out. In others — such as the case of Boonstra – AFP has explicitly equated factual scrutiny of the AFP ad she appeared in with trying to silence a terminally ill cancer victim.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | February 24