It's an explosive claim. A woman diagnosed with lieukemia recounts how, thanks to Obamacare, her insurance was canceled and the cost of her life-saving treatments are now "so high, it's unaffordable."
"If I do not receive my medication," she says. "I will die."
The ad, targeting Michigan Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters, comes from Americans For Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers. The woman featured in the campaign, Julie Boonstra, is not an actress, and her story is real. But when it comes to the claim that Obamacare has increased her bills, let alone threatened her life, there's a chasm-sized gap between the horror story and the information available about her medical situation.
In this case, the problem with the ad is basic math. In an interview with The Detroit News in January, before the ad ran, Boonstra told the paper that her plan was canceled because of Obamacare, something that has indeed happened to many Americans whose private coverage did not meet minimum standards set by the law. But, just like any American whose plan was canceled, Boonstra is able to look for a replacement plan through the law's subsidized insurance exchanges, which are not allowed to turn anyone away based on a pre-existing condition. And according to Boonstra, she not only found coverage, but a Blue Cross plan that cut her premiums in half -- from $1,100 a month to $571 a month. She's still seeing the same doctor she had before.
So, what's the problem? According to Boonstra, she now pays higher out-of-pocket costs thanks to a higher deductible on her insurance. This is where things get start going off the rails.
The highest out-of-pocket cost legally allowed under Obamacare is $6,350 for an individual person, after which insurance covers the rest. Boonstra, by her own account, is saving at least $6,348 a year on her premiums. Even assuming her previous plan had zero out-of-pocket costs, she should, at the very least, be breaking even, in addition to benefitting from new features under the law, like an end to lifetime limits on the amount insurance companies would cover, an end to discrimination over pre-existing conditions, and new restrictions on the amount companies can charge based on age or gender. All benefits that would seem especially useful to a patient like Boonstra.
None of this is to diminish Boonstra's clear frustration switching to a new plan during a health crisis and dealing with new rules and limits. But those problems are about a million miles away from AFP's implication that the law is actually threatening her cancer treatment or that it "jeapordized my health," as she put it in the ad. Especially given that the ad, unlike AFP's press release on it, doesn't even directly mention that she obtained new coverage under the law, instead teasing the possibility that she's facing higher out-of-pocket costs because she doesn't have new health insurance.
A spokesman for AFP did not respond to requests for more information from msnbc on Thursday. But the group did talk to Glenn Kessler, who writes the Washington Post's Fact Checker blog, noticed the discrepancy, too, and awarded the ad "Two Pinnochios" on Friday.
When AFP spokesman Levi Russell elaborated on the ad to Kessler, the charge quickly became less horrifying than "Obamacare Threatens To Bankrupt Cancer Patient." Instead, Russell just said Boonstra's cost schedule is different and she's having trouble adjusting to the new plan.
"Julie’s concerns about her new plan are ongoing and very personal. Since her out of pocket costs are so much higher now, her costs have quickly become unpredictable,” Russell told Kessler. “Rather than knowing exactly what she would have to pay every month, she now is facing a roller coaster of expenses that vary with her health. She said she feels like a surprise is around every corner, since she keeps being hit with new out-of-pocket costs every time she needs treatment, or a test, or even an office visit.”
AFP also gave the Post a quote from Boonstra confirming that her premiums are half, "but the out‑of‑pocket costs are so high that for me, it’s unaffordable. My coverage is 80/20. Blood work, I’m paying 20 percent. If I needed a bone marrow transplant, I would only be covered 80 percent. Everything, everything I do now, I have to pay a percentage of.”
Again, that sounds like a frustrating day-to-day experience, but AFP and Boonstra don't deny that the maximum amount insurance companies are allowed to charge her or any individual per year, under any circumstances, full stop, period, is the same as her total savings. Given that AFP can't seem to substantiate the claim that she's paying more at all, let alone so much that she's in danger of losing her care, the ad looks like one of the most outrageously misleading yet.