Politics

03.11.14

Health Care's Resistors and Adapters

You’ll recall that Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in delivering one of the 17 GOP State of the Union responses, spoke of “Bette,” the Spokane woman whose premiums were going up under Obamacare by $700 a month. The state’s jackboot, according to McMorris-Rodgers, was planted right on Bette’s throat, and there was nothing she could do about it. Bette would “have no choice” but to pay the extra, socialistic freight. Awful, awful, awful.

But the Spokane newspaper tracked Bette down and got the whole story, which was that her insurer did indeed cancel Bette’s then-current plan, which didn’t meet all the new ACA coverage requirements. When she called, the insurer tried to steer her to a plan that cost around $500 a month more. However, Bette never went to the Washington state web site to check out all the options available to her. If she had, the LA Times reported, she’d have found that in fact many options were available to her, “and with a deductible far lower than the $10,000 she was paying under the old plan and broader coverage, though lacking a provision for four free doctor visits a year provided by her old plan.” But Bette just didn’t want to go on “that Obama web site at all.”

Now, the Detroit News has found another Bette. Julie Boonstra has cancer, and last month she starred in a Koch Brothers-funded ad for one of the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. The ad claimed that Obamacare would make her medication so unaffordable that she might die. The News looked into the details of her new plan and found that she is going to save $1,200 a year. Here’s how the News summarizes the details:

Boonstra’s old plan cost $1,100 a month in premiums or $13,200 a year, she previously told The News. It didn’t include money she spent on co-pays, prescription drugs and other out-of-pocket expenses.

By contrast, the Blues’ plan premium costs $571 a month or $6,852 for the year. Since out-of-pocket costs are capped at $5,100, including deductibles, the maximum Boonstra would pay this year for all of her cancer treatment is $11,952.

Like Bette, Boonstra just isn’t buying it. It “can’t be true” and “I personally don’t believe that.” She’s the ex-wife of a former GOP county chairman who was named by the Republican governor to a seat on the state Court of Appeals, though she told the News she’s never been political.

Maybe not. And she does have cancer, so the point here is not to lay into her. The point is the way people’s views have been set in concrete because of all this hatred and all these lies coming from Republicans and groups like the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.

Most people love the feeling of having their anger and suspicions confirmed. The chance to say “I knew it!” is rare enough in this world, and most people relish it. They relish it on some level even more than being wrong but ending up pleasantly surprised, at least in cases where for whatever reason they’ve developed some kind of emotional commitment to the outcome that confirms their worst fears.

So people were told: Obamacare is going to screw you over. Most people—conservatives, of course, but just general people with a default distrust of government—accepted this as logical. So they looked only for evidence that would support their being screwed over. Evidence to the contrary, even when it benefits them, is dismissed. Bette and Boonstra both do this. Bette wouldn’t even go look at the web site, where she’d have seen she had numerous options. Boonstra, told by newspaper reporters the objective facts of her situation, said she simply doesn’t believe it.

I wrote a piece a couple of months ago for which I went on the recently fixed up ACA web site, pretended to be a married, modest-income guy from Kansas, and found that I was offered a staggering 42 different plans, from very cheap (and really high deductible) ones to quite pricey ones, with lots of stops in between. Most people who bother to look will find the same thing.

But they have to look. The baseline question, as it so often is in politics these days, is about emotional resistance. How long will it take before people who get letters about changes to their insurance just go on the ACA web site and calmly shop around? Some smallish number does that now, but I daresay there are more Bettes and Boonstras. One big determinant of how Obamacare ends up playing in the elections this November will be how many resistors have become adapters.

Meanwhile, it's comical, but also kind of sick, that the law's opponents keep producing these lies and can't find any real victims. I'm sure some are out there, but far, far more people will benefit from the fine print of this law, which is why these stories fall apart.