It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Thanks to a Republican provision in the Affordable Care Act, members of Congress have to sign up for health care coverage through exchange marketplaces, so House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided to make a little show of it, using his own personal enrollment experience to prove … something.
The Republican Speaker invited a photographer to his office to help document the process, and wrote a blog post about the “frustrating” error messages he received online. Soon after Boehner updated his post – he “called the DC Health Link help line,” and a “few hours later,” he’d signed up for coverage.
Even on the surface, Boehner’s experience seemed mildly inconvenient, but it wasn’t that bad. The trouble is, more details came to light in the days that followed, making this publicity stunt far more embarrassing for the Speaker than he’d hoped.
Boehner neglected to mention, for example, that the help line called him.
Actually, it turns out he had successfully enrolled and got a call confirming that about an hour after his tweet. But it gets better.
According to Scott MacFarlane, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate in Washington, reports that a DC Health Care exchange representative actually tried to contact Boehner by phone during the enrollment process but was put on hold for 35 minutes, after which time the representative finally hung up.
In other words, Boehner complained about how long the process took, but when he got a call to complete the enrollment process, the Speaker kept the exchange rep on hold for over half an hour.
But wait, Republicans argue, Politico reported that Boehner’s premiums “spiked” when he chose his new plan. Maybe he exaggerated the details of the enrollment process, but doesn’t it matter that the Speaker is going to have to pay a lot more money for coverage? Isn’t this evidence of a larger problem for consumers?
No, actually it’s not. Michael Hiltzik explained that this omits all of the relevant details, including the employer subsidy, Boehner’s age (at 64, he’s the oldest possible customer), the fact that he chose the most expensive insurance available, and the fact that the exchanges aren’t intended for wealthy people who already have great insurance.
Hiltzik added, “What Boehner’s experience underscores is that for the vast majority of individual insurance customers, the Affordable Care Act is a real plus. That’s true for John Boehner and his congressional colleagues, and it’s about time they stopped complaining – and lying – about it.”
The Speaker and his team no doubt hoped to prove that this entire system is a mess, from the dysfunctional enrollment process to the “sticker shock.” What Boehner actually proved is that enrollment wasn’t that tough at all, and there are great deals and a variety of options available to consumers.