Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) sits during a rehearsal of the Republican response to U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on January 28, 2014.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

‘Bette in Spokane’

Updated
For the last several months, conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act, including congressional Republicans, have encouraged Americans to contact the GOP with “Obamacare horror stories.” The more the right can highlight those adversely affected by the law, the argument goes, the more ACA critics can undermine public support for reform.
 
To that end, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, used her party’s official response to the State of the Union to highlight a woman in her home state who, she claimed, was better off before the law.
“Not long ago, I got a letter from Bette in Spokane, who had hoped the president’s health care law would save her money, but found out instead her premiums were going up nearly $700 a month…. No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but this law is not working.”
Almost immediately, red flags went up among those who follow the health care debate closely. And for good reason: over the last several months, Republicans and their allies have put a spotlight on quite a few “Obamacare victims,” but the stories invariably fell apart after modest scrutiny.
 
With this in mind, it was only natural to wonder about the circumstances surrounding “Bette in Spokane,” who presumably represented the single best piece of anecdotal evidence McMorris Rodgers could find as part of her ACA indictment. Fortunately, we now have a better sense of the relevant details, which, like so many “Obamacare horror stories,” don’t help the Republicans’ case at all.
 
The local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review, tracked down Bette Grenier, who wrote the letter used in McMorris Rodgers’ remarks.
[T]he “nearly $700 per month” increase in her premium that McMorris Rodgers cited in Tuesday night’s GOP response to the State of the Union address was based on one of the pricier options, a $1,200-a-month replacement plan that was pitched by Asuris Northwest to Grenier and her husband, Don.
 
The carrier also offered a less expensive, $1,052-per-month option in lieu of their soon-to-be-discontinued catastrophic coverage plan. And, Grenier acknowledged the couple probably could have shaved another $100 a month off the replacement policy costs by purchasing them from the state’s online portal, the Health Plan Finder website, but they chose to avoid the government health exchanges.
In a familiar situation, the horror story isn’t as horrible as we’d been led to believe. In this case, “Bette in Spokane” didn’t have a health care plan so much as she had insurance that covered catastrophic coverage – and nothing else – with a $10,000 deductible.
 
Because the law transitions consumers from these bare-bones plans to actual coverage – plans that offer meaningful health care security – she had to choose real insurance. For reasons that are unclear, “Bette in Spokane” refused to check the exchange marketplace to see if she could find a good deal and instead chose an expensive plan from her existing insurer.
 
Also note, it’s not too late for “Bette in Spokane” – the state insurance commissioner said his office can help her and her family review the available options.
 
In the official Republican Party’s SOTU response, all of these relevant details were ignored. Viewers were led to believe the law forced higher premiums on this consumer as part of some kind of inherent flaw in the system, but that’s not at all what happened in reality.
 
And circling back to the last time we talked about a story like this, it’s worth emphasizing that there are Americans who’ve been adversely affected by health care reform. In a nation of 314 million people, it will be possible to find some who didn’t benefit as much as everyone else. In fact, it’s inevitable.
 
But in the rush to condemn the law, the public has been confronted repeatedly with anecdotal evidence that’s completely fallen apart. Worse, consumers invariably hear more about the horror stories than the follow-up reports proving the horror stories wrong.
 
If the Affordable Care Act were really as awful as the right claims, shouldn’t it be easier to find genuine examples of Obamacare’s “losers”?
 

Affordable Care Act and Obamacare

'Bette in Spokane'

Updated