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“Like A Drunk In A Bar Fight”: Why Republicans Will Never Stop Lying About Obamacare

Politically speaking, here’s the thing about those melodramatic ads attacking the Affordable Care Act currently running on TV: In terms of actual policy, they’re as futile as the 40-odd votes to repeal the law that House Republicans have already cast.

GOP hardliners are like a drunk in a bar fight threatening to whip somebody twice his size if only his friends would let go of his arms.

It’s all over but the shouting.

Even if Republicans make big gains in the 2014 congressional elections, they can’t possibly win enough votes to overcome a presidential veto. What’s more, chances of capturing the White House in 2016 on a platform of canceling millions of Americans’ health insurance benefits appear so remote as to be downright delusional. Like it or not, the ACA is here to stay.

Indeed, governors and legislatures in previously recalcitrant states including New Hampshire, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia are considering Medicaid expansion they’d previously shunned. Despite early signup problems with the federal HealthCare.gov exchange, signups for individual private policies have increased to where it now appears the ACA will come close to meeting its projected goal of 7 million enrollees by the March 31 deadline.

Moreover, for all the predictions of actuarial doom heard on Fox News and elsewhere—supposedly caused by an imbalance of old, sick enrollees versus younger, healthier ones—the Washington Post reported last month that “the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the market’s age distribution freezes at its current level—an extremely unlikely scenario—‘overall costs in individual market plans would be about 2.4 percent higher than premium revenues.’”

That’s a minor problem, but nothing like a “death spiral.”

In terms of affecting health care policy, then, the TV ads are largely symbolic — scripted melodramas calculated to arouse the partisan passions of the GOP “base” in states where control of the U.S. Senate could be determined this fall. Financed by Americans for Prosperity, the Scrooge McDuck-style front group controlled by the Koch brothers and fellow anti-government tycoons, they’re aimed less at killing the Affordable Care Act than convincing voters that Democrats are their enemies.

Maybe that’s why the ad campaign has proven so singularly unpersuasive to skeptics. In Lousiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is up for re-election this fall, AFP has run a commercial featuring a group of actors pretending to be ordinary Louisiana citizens whose health insurance was canceled due to “Obamacare.” But it’s make-believe; a scripted TV drama as fictive as a Viagra advertisment.

In Arkansas, virtually every news program features a pretty, AFP-sponsored actress plaintively begging viewers to remind Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor that health care is about “people,” and that “the law just doesn’t work.” More in sorrow than anger, it seems, because Pryor remains personally popular.

Pryor’s opponent, Koch-financed Rep. Tom Cotton, tells a touching tale about one “Elizabeth, from Pulaski County” whose premiums have allegedly risen 85 percent under the new law “simply because Washington politicians and bureaucrats think they know what’s best for her and her family.”

I found myself wondering what kind of insurance plan the otherwise unidentified Elizabeth used to have, or if she’s like one of those imaginary digitally enhanced hotties that Internet ads assure me are just a mouse-click away.

Supposedly factual AFP ads have proven even less persuasive to skeptical journalists. In Michigan, 49-year-old leukemia patient Julie Boonstra earnestly explained to viewers that her existing health care policy had been canceled due to the Affordable Care Act, implying that she’d also lost her doctor and been broadsided by ruinous costs.

Fact checks by the Washington Post and Detroit News, however, determined that Boonstra hadn’t lost her doctor at all. What’s more, her monthly premiums under the Affordable Care Act cost roughly half what she’d been paying ($571, from $1,100). Her out-of-pocket expenses almost precisely matched those savings — overall, a wash.

A determined opponent of the law, apart from her understandable anxiety about changing insurance carriers while fighting cancer, Boonstra turned out to have suffered no real losses. Not to mention that she now has a policy that can’t be rescinded due to a “previously existing condition.”

And so it goes. Los Angeles Times economics columnist Michael Hiltzik has made a minor specialty out of fact checking these successive tales of woe. It’s left him wondering if there are really any “Obamacare” victims at all.

“What a lot of these stories have in common,” he writes “are, first of all, a subject largely unaware of his or her options under the ACA or unwilling to determine them; and, second, shockingly uninformed and incurious news reporters, including some big names in the business, who don’t bother to look into the facts of the cases they’re offering for public consumption.”

Politically, however, printed facts rarely prevail against televised fictions. Anyway, repealing the Affordable Care Act isn’t the point. It’s inflaming the GOP base and defeating Democrats.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 26, 2014

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Easier Than Honesty”: Winning A Debate By Quashing Scrutiny

In her party’s official response to the State of the Union a few weeks ago, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, shared an anecdote about “Bette in Spokane,” the latest in a series of “Obamacare victims.” As is usually the case, within a day or two, the story was debunked.

Once McMorris Rodgers realized her story was wrong, the congresswoman, instead of apologizing, tried to go on the offensive. “It’s sad partisan politicians are attacking Bette,” she argued.

In reality, no one had “attacked” the woman in the story. Rather, McMorris Rodgers’ anecdote was fact checked and proven to be wrong. To suggest that scrutinizing suspect claims is somehow improper is absurd, but that was nevertheless the congresswoman’s reaction.

It was apparently a sign of things to come.

Last week, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity launched a new attack ad targeting Rep. Gary Peters, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan. The spot features Julie Boonstra, a Michigan woman who’s paying less money for better insurance without having to change doctors, but who was nevertheless presented in the ad as yet another ACA victim.

Peters, not surprisingly, believes AFP should provide more information to bolster the claims in its ad. The right, no longer willing to defend the deceptive commercial, has decided to attack Peters.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., wants to be a United States senator, but he has a problem. He’s engaged in a “war on women” – make that a single woman – whom he’s trying to silence because he doesn’t like the story she has to tell. […]

Julie Boonstra deserves a medal for what she is doing. Peters should hang his head in shame.

It’s a fascinating rhetorical gambit, worth appreciating for its rare combination of audacity and mendacity. What’s more, it’s increasingly becoming the standard response to one of the right’s more glaring problems in the health care debate: all of the conservatives’ evidence keeps falling apart.

Let’s say you have a movement of sorts and your goal is to deliberately tear down the nation’s health care system, no matter the consequences. Let’s also say you have the bright idea of using anecdotal evidence to highlight “victims” in order to prove how awful the system is, only to have pesky reporters discover that all of your evidence is bogus and the victims haven’t really been victimized at all.

At this point, you have a few choices. You could, for example, find a new hobby and stop trying to prevent Americans from having access to affordable health care. Or you could cast a new line, hoping to find some elusive, legitimate horror stories that won’t be debunked a day or so later.

But these are strategies based on conventional thinking. What you really need is a very different kind of plan: one in which you keep presenting bogus anecdotes, but discourage those who know what they’re talking about from pointing out your errors. What you want is to promote misleading propaganda with impunity – more mendacity, less scrutiny.

And how do you do that? By lashing out angrily against those noting the facts. Those who recognize the AFP’s Boonstra ad as misleading are obviously attacking a woman with cancer and should be ashamed of themselves – or so the story goes.

I suppose it’s clever, in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way, but it’s no way to have a credible policy debate. Indeed, it seems some of these conservatives are effectively giving up on the very idea of a serious discourse – they not only want to present misleading anecdotes, they also want to intimidate those who might dare to note reality by accusing them of being heartless bullies.

As Greg Sargent put it the other day, many on the right have essentially declared “that the emotional content of these victims’ stories should shield such ads from scrutiny.” Fact-checking suspect claims “will be met with charges of insensitivity to the victims.”

I guess it’s easier than honesty.

Postscript: The Wall Street Journal ran a piece yesterday arguing that the Affordable Care Act cost a woman her cancer medication. The piece was quickly embraced by the right, but it was debunked by Michael Hiltzik a few hours later.

If recent history is any guide, this means Hiltzik should expect to be accused of not caring about people with cancer. Sorry, Mike.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 25, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Americans for Prosperity, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A GOP Sociopathetic Scam”: Why Actual ACA ‘Victims’ Are So Elusive

It’s practically a running joke at this point. The Affordable Care Act’s conservative detractors have spent the last several months in a desperate search for “Obamacare victims” to be used in various partisan attacks, and quite a few regular folks have received quite a bit of attention.

The problem, of course, is that all of these examples, once they’re subjected to even minor scrutiny, have fallen apart – the “horror stories” really aren’t so horrible. Michael Hiltzik speculated last week that there may not be any genuine anecdotes to bolster the right’s claims.

What’s going on here? Paul Krugman offers one possible explanation.

Even supporters of health reform are somewhat surprised by the right’s apparent inability to come up with real cases of hardship. Surely there must be some people somewhere actually being hurt by a reform that affects millions of Americans. Why can’t the right find these people and exploit them?

The most likely answer is that the true losers from Obamacare generally aren’t very sympathetic. For the most part, they’re either very affluent people affected by the special taxes that help finance reform, or at least moderately well-off young men in very good health who can no longer buy cheap, minimalist plans. Neither group would play well in tear-jerker ads.

That’s as good an explanation as any. What the right needs are sympathetic figures – real, relatable Americans who are struggling, and whose plight was made worse by the Affordable Care Act. The most notable recent example came last week with a Michigan woman, Julie Boonstra, featured in an Americans for Prosperity attack ad and in RNC events, who’s paying less for better insurance without having to change doctors.

In other words, as far as health care policy is concerned, it’s not much of a horror story, though it’s presumably the best the right can come up with.

But taking this one step further, let’s also acknowledge the extent to which the right is using ACA beneficiaries as a cudgel to undermine their own interests.

Brian Beutler did a nice job this morning explaining that the practice of using Americans to harm their own health security is a “sociopathic new scam.”

[W]e’re really just talking about Julie Boonstra here.

If she and AFP get their way, she’ll be just as much a victim of Obamacare repeal as all the people who face health circumstances similar to hers. And the saddest part of that tragic irony is that Boonstra doesn’t even seem to understand what her circumstances are, or why it doesn’t make sense to devote her energies to repealing the law. Boonstra told the Dexter Leader, “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, because I always knew what I was paying and now I don’t, and I haven’t gone through the tests or seen my specialist yet.”

But that’s just not so. Anyone who’s studied the law knows it’s not so. Anyone who’s paid unexpected health bills in installments knows it’s not so. And well-heeled Affordable Care Act foes like Americans for Prosperity certainly know it’s not so. And in that sense AFP, and everyone else on the right “supporting” Julie Boonstra, are using her as a weapon in a war against herself.

To a very real degree, it’s tragic to watch the developments unfold in real time. For much of 2013, especially in the months leading up to the open-enrollment period, assorted far-right groups launched an organized campaign to encourage the uninsured to stay that way – on purpose – in order to help conservative organizations advance their ideological agenda. It was a truly offensive display in which wealthy activists on the right urged struggling Americans to deliberately put their wellbeing in jeopardy.

Months later, we’re at a similarly painful moment in the debate, in which many of the same groups and activists are now exploiting people to create misleading attack ads, all in the hopes of keeping people from having access to affordable health care.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 24, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Americans for Prosperity, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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