You may want to sit down before reading this: Republicans aren’t being totally truthful about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As the 2014 midterm elections approach, conservative groups are beginning to hit the airwaves with spots targeting vulnerable Democrats and their support for the health law — and the ads are playing fast and loose with the facts.
Americans for Prosperity, the tax-exempt conservative action group created by brothers Charles and David Koch, took out two ads against vulnerable Democrats: Rick Nolan of Minnesota’s 8th District and Ann Kuster of New Hampshire’s 2nd District. Both focus on the health-care law, and they are important to dissect because they are the first trickles of what is sure to be a torrent of anti-ACA advertising.
The ad against Nolan features a middle-aged Minnesota resident named Randy Westby, who says he lost his health care plan because it no longer qualified for purchase in the exchanges. “I’ve had three heart attacks in the last six years. Health care is something that’s essential, and my life depends on it,” he continues.
The ad leans heavily on Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” designation for President Obama’s “if you like your plan, you can keep it” claim, and gives the strong impression that sick people are much worse off under Obamacare.
But was Westby able to find another plan? Four million to five million people probably had their plan canceled because of updated coverage requirements, but the administration believes fewer than 500,000 of those people are still looking for another plan. The ad doesn’t tell us if Westby is one of those people.
Nor does it note that he can’t be disqualified from any of the plans on the exchanges because of his preexisting condition — and three heart attacks in six years is one heck of a preexisting condition. Are the plans available to him cheaper than what he had before? How much better is the coverage? We don’t know, although given Westby’s medical history and apparent age, it seems he is exactly the type of person most likely to benefit from how the new individual market is structured.
The New Hampshire ad is more general and features an actress, but it relies on the same central and shaky claim that “millions of people” are losing coverage. Both ads hit the Democrats in question for voting to keep the ACA in place. (Aside from firing up the conservative grass roots, there was a good political reason for all those repeal votes in the House: to get vulnerable Democrats on the record, again and again.)
A focus on horror stories like these is the likely new Republican approach to Obamacare, as the New York Times outlines today. “It’s no longer just a piece of paper that you can repeal and it goes away,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told the times. “There’s something there. We have to recognize that reality. We have to deal with the people that are currently covered under Obamacare.”
But Westby may well be one of these people. And he may be getting better coverage. These will be the battle lines for the upcoming year: Republicans are gearing up to tell the horror stories, and Democrats will have to respond with stories of their own — the eight million to 10 million people who will be getting coverage under Obamacare by the end of March.