Why actual ACA ‘victims’ are so elusive

Updated
An Affordable Healthcare Act supporter (R) talks with a student (L) about the law on the campus of Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, California, October 10, 2013.
An Affordable Healthcare Act supporter (R) talks with a student (L) about the law on the campus of Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, California, October 10, 2013.
Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
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.
 

Affordable Care Act and Obamacare

Why actual ACA 'victims' are so elusive

Updated