It’s hard to miss the pattern: the right identifies an “Obamacare victim,” who receives a fair amount of attention and finds themselves featured in a misleading attack ad. Soon after, reality sets in – the ACA “horror story” draws closer scrutiny and the story turns out to be quite different than the one first presented to the public.
I tried to keep up with all of them for a while, but I’ve literally lost count of how many times this has happened.
The new one is an attack ad in Michigan’s U.S. Senate race, sponsored by the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, featuring a woman named Julia Boonstra. She tells viewers:
“I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare.“Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to. It’s heartbreaking for me. Congressman Peters, your decision to vote Obamacare jeopardized my health.”
If she looks familiar, Boonstra was also featured in a Republican National Committee event a few weeks ago and was a Republican guest at this year’s State of the Union address.
It’s also worth noting that unlike some of the other figures featured in the AFP’s anti-healthcare ads, Boonstra is a real person, not an actor. What’s more, she actually lives in the state she claims to live in, giving the commercial an added boost.
But the claims in the attack ad are, like so many of its predecessors, problematic.
For example, in the ad, Boonstra says she found a “wonderful doctor” after her diagnosis. What the commercial doesn’t mention is that Boonstra now has coverage under Blue Cross Blue Shield – coverage that can’t be taken away if her health deteriorates, and which there are no annual or lifetime caps – in which she’s still able to see the exact same physician.
Moreover, in the ad, Boonstra says she’s facing “unaffordable” out-of-pocket costs. Glenn Kessler noted that the commercial doesn’t mention that under the ACA, Boonstra’s monthly premiums have dropped from $1,100 a month to $571. If she’s concerned about out-of-pocket costs, the Affordable Care Act creates a ceiling – which is practically identical to her annual savings thanks to her lower premiums.
In other words, when it comes to finances, under the worst case scenario, she’ll break even, paying no more than she was paying before, all while seeing the same physician and enjoying coverage with stronger consumer protections than she had under her old plan.
Just to be clear, the point is not to criticize Boonstra or appear insensitive to the seriousness of her medical crisis. I can hardly imagine the anguish that comes with a diagnosis like the one she received, and I’m glad she has health insurance, she’s receiving care, her premiums have been cut in half, and she has a doctor she trusts. Looking ahead, I’m also glad she won’t have to worry in the future about insurers punishing or excluding her because of a pre-existing condition.
That said, her role in the latest AFP attack ad tells only part of a story, leaving Michigan residents with an incomplete version of reality.
Let’s also not forget the larger context: Americans for Prosperity are working furiously to deny health care coverage to as many Americans as possible – in part by pushing to block Medicaid expansion, in part by urging the uninsured to stay that way on purpose – including some who may have received a diagnosis similar to Boonstra.