Questions To Ask About Every “Obamacare Horror Story”

Stop Whining About Overreaching

​After having a field day last Friday with a dreadfully inaccurate health care story on the front page of the Denver Post by freelance reporter Arthur Kane, we woke up this Sunday morning expecting the next in a series of such "exposés," and another day ripping it into bite-size pieces with help from our astute fact-checking readers. Mr. Kane recently solicited health insurance policy cancellation stories where the renewal premium offered–keep in mind that 96% of so-called "cancellations" in Colorado were in fact policy renewal offers–was higher, on the Denver Post's Facebook page. We've also heard rumors about muckraking inquiries from Kane at Connect for Health Colorado and related entities.

Interestingly, no such story appeared in the Sunday edition. Of course, that may mean nothing, but it may also be that Mr. Kane's troublingly inaccurate story Friday, which seems to have not been run through any kind of rudimentary fact-checking before publication on the front page of Friday's Denver Post, has inspired whatever editors Kane does have to subject him to more scrutiny. We're in no position to verify grumblings we've heard since Friday about Kane's past work at KMGH-TV and as an actual employee at the Denver Post, but from the chatter we've heard, it's likely that whoever is in an oversight position here got some distressed phone calls from the Chuck Plunketts of the world.

In the wake of Friday's experience on this blog and in social media, where the debunking of the anecdotal claims made in Kane's story were both comprehensive and detailed, we've heard from others and thought of ourselves lots of excellent questions with which to vet the next "Obamacare horror story"–either in the news or that you might hear from a friend. And naturally, we hope Arthur Kane's editors are writing these down:

  • Have you contacted a Colorado health insurance Navigator (note proper noun) and/or Connect for Health Colorado to verify the information you're being given by non-experts about premiums, coverages, and deductibles?
  • Has the subject explored all of the up-front tax credits and other cost reduction options, both personally and for businesses of all sizes including small businesses?
  • In the case of a so-called "policy cancellation," what did the previous plan cover or exclude? What were the previous deductibles compared to present offerings?
  • If a renewed policy or an objectively comparable new policy is more costly now than last year, even after all applicable subsidies, how does that increase compare to the pre-ACA historic rate of premium increases?
  • Does the subject have a pre-existing condition that would have rendered them either uninsurable or prohibitively expensive to insure before the ACA?
  • Of the subject's recurring medical needs, which of them are already addressed by the ACA's new basic required benefits?
  • Did the old plan include any of the basic benefits under Obamacare, including the cap on out of pocket costs?
  • Are you correctly reporting the penalty for not obtaining insurance? The actual penalty in 2014 will in most cases exceed $95–it's 1% of income, up to a maximum of the equivalent average premium for the basic "Bronze level" insurance plan.

We don't intend for this to be a complete list. Please add more questions in comments below. If they're really good, we'll update the post. What we hope most of all comes from this little exercise on the one issue of health insurance–we could come up with a similar list for gun safety or any number of issues–is a return to what has been so conspicuously lacking in our local political journalism lately.

That is, critical thinking.

20 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Those are great questions to ask about Colorado stories. My own experience canvassing and talking with neighbors in Pueblo shows that the misinformation broadcasted by Fox news has had the effect of confusing people and muddying the conversation.

    However, this is easily countered by providing real-world stories by real people, with real contacts in the neighborhood to go to for further information and enrollment, if necessary. Canvassing and information tables at public events will cure the "low-info" problem. I can tell you some positive stories, using no names:

    • The middle-aged mother, taking care of her disabled son. He gets Medicaid; she wasn't old enough, not rich or poor enough, to take care of her own health – until the ACA was passed.
    • The 27 year old construction worker, who now has an option besides going to expensive urgent care facilities when he is injured.
    • Myself, surviving on substitute teaching and tutoring gigs, not covered until the ACA.
    • New citizen, late 50s, with a small business. Now, he's covered.

    Elsewhere in the country, Obamacare horror stories abound, and are also spread by Fox and other right-wing media.  Where alert reporters have investigated, these have all been debunked:

    That goes for the stories of Julie Boonstra, Diane Barrette, "Bette", Matt Leising, and Julianne Stovall. ("Obamacare killed my little sister")  I investigated Ms. Stovall's story extensively, first reporting my doubts that she was even a real person, as the family reacted to her tragic death by publishing columns on Anne Coulter's, and 16 other, right wing websites.

    I found that Ms. Stovall had indeed passed away, not in California as Poltifact reported, but in Virginia. At that point I apologized for my first, mistaken reaction to the story, that it was "all BS".  It was only partly BS.

    A Virginia investigator following the guidelines Pols suggests would find that there were in fact a health exchange,  and navigators in Virginia, and that there was no impediment to Ms. Stovall becoming insured. In other words, "Obamacare" wasn't to blame for her death.

    So another question I would add to Pols excellent list above is, if the spin is coming from family members of a "victim" of the ACA,  what is the proportion of blog outrage for political points, vs. genuine mourning and grieving for the  sick person? And, what are the actual facts in the case, following guidelines above?


  2. itlduso says:

    You might add: If you are posting a huge story today about the 100 year birthday celebration of Dr. Seuss coming up this Tuesday, did you do the math?

    (Because it's actually the 110th birthday.)    Sigh….

  3. Andrew Carnegie says:

    Great idea asking for some questions:

    Did you actually believe Obama when he said you can keep your health care plan?

    Did you actually believe Udall when he said the same thing?

    Now that you know that they lied to you, would you actually believe anything that either of them or those that support them told you now about Obamacare?

    When your healthcare plan was cancelled, how did you like that?

    How did it make you feel?

    It sucks being victimized by and lied to by the state, doesn't it?

    If you would like to keep feeling that way, vote for Mark Udall, it would not have passed without his vote.

    If you would like to feel better, don't vote for those liars any more.


    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      Here's some answers (since your post is on topic and factual):

      1. Yes.
      2. Yes.
      3. Every politician lies. I don't like it, but they all do. The question is how much they lie and to what end. In the case of this issue I don't think it was willful so much as it was stupid.
      4. My company's healthcare plan has been cancelled every year and they then offer us a similiar one. So no impact.
      5. See answer 4 – N/A.
      6. It sure does. I hated the non-stop lies of the Bush/Cheney Administration.
      7. How did Mark Udall's vote keep Bush lying to me?
      8. And this mythical politician who doesn't lie is…


      • Andrew Carnegie says:


        Let me address number 4 first.  

        Most health insurance plans are written for a period of one year.  At the end of the year the period ends.  That ending date is not referred to as being cancelled, except by those who are ignorant or have an agenda. 

        The termination notices that were sent out, caused by Obamacare were sent out, not because of lapse of time, but because the risks that were covered were required to be changed by the government.

        I don't know if you genuinely do not understand how insurnace works, or if you are violating the first principal which you ennunciated in your recent post.  I suspect for many of the posters here it is the later.

        As to number 3, the reason for the lie was because they wanted to pass a very significant law which they knew to be very unpopular with the country at large, but highly popular with the true believers who make up a large part of their base.  They knew if they were truthful they would not be able to pass it because the needed an absolute unanimous partisan coalition.  It is the only major piece of legislation in my memory that was passed that way.

        The true believers of the base, read Polsters, still don't find any trouble with what they did.  The Liars calculated that the proletariat would see what wonderful gifts they had bestowed upon them and be happy once they realized their blessings.  The House flipped historically in 2010 and I am hopefull the Senate may do the same in 2014.

        I understand that when a favored politician lies, and one wants to be supportive, it puts the supporter in a difficult position.  The most effective way to support the politician is by deflecting, like you did when you suggested lets all detail what a wonderful job Udall has done, rather than address his not showing up at his kids hearing.  The least effective way is for articles like pols put forth claiming that people who had their policies cancelled did not have their policies cancelled.  That is kind of like saying are you going to believe me or your lying eyes.  Most people will go with their eyes.

        • Republican 36 says:

          It is you who do not understand how insurance works. For the most part state statutes govern insurance, including coverage. When a state legislature revises the statutes govenring coverage, the next year the insurance companies have to offer plans that reflect those changes which correspondingly means some policies are cancelled but the same company offers the policy owner a renewal under a policy that complies with the new state statute. In this case, it was a new federal law that revised the coverage and the companies cancelled policies that didn't comply and offered renewals under polices that did. Very simple and it has happened over and over again down through the years. 

        • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

          I asked my HR person. We've had years we could continue. We've had years it was cancelled but here's the new similiar plan. And we had a case where Aetna stopped covering small businesses in Colorado and so dropped us and we had to switch to Anthem.

          They were wrong on this one point, which I don't think is that big of a deal and is a small part of the law. I also think this was more stupidity than willful duplicity. I highly doubt Udall understood the details of the law well enough to truly know how this part would play out and trusted what he was told by the Administration.

          I don't have trouble with this because the issue is of minor import and I don't think it was purposeful. It's like Bush's statement about Iraq having WMDs, I believe that he did believe the WMDs were there. He was wrong, but that doesn't mean he was lying when he said he believed they were there.

          • Andrew Carnegie says:


            In the world of insurance, when Aetna stopped writing small business plans in Colorado, that is something that is considered a termination.  It happens, probably something in the range of one in five years.  Years where you could continue would be renewals or renewals at a higher price.  Switching plans would depend on the circumstances.  Group health plans are not terminated every year.  I am glad your HR person confirmed that.

            As to Udall's state of mind and duplicity.  When it became obvious to even the blind that the policies were going to be cancelled a bill was proposed that would allow the plans to stay in effect.  I believe it was in 2010.  Udall in a party line vote voted not to allow the existing policies to stay in effect.

            If Udall is too stupid to understand what he votes on is the defense when it was passed, what is the defense in 2010?

            • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

              As to why Udall voted against the bill to allow plans to stay in effect – ask his office. They suck at answering constituents but if you push you can get an answer.

              As to his not knowing in the original bill, I doubt anyone could truly understand every bit of something that complex. And if he put in the time to do so, he would be a lousy Senator as it would mean dropping attention on everything else.

    • langelomisteriosolangelomisterioso says:

      The better question is should anyone believe anything you say? I feel much better just asking that question.

  4. BlueCatBlueCat says:

    I think we can all skip the idiotological ( See…I'm already using Ardy's newly coined great word) questions. The others are all great. Just to clarify one of them, ask exactly how much in subsidies the subject of the horror story should have qualified for.

  5. vertigo700 says:

    I sent the following letter to the Denver Post about the article. Decided to be a bit more positive and helpful. See if I get a response or it published:


    Denver Post Editorial Board,

        I was a bit surprised by the article about young Coloradans struggling to afford the requirements of the new health care law. I am 29 and have recently returned to school to get a teaching license. In my experience, the insurance choices at Connect for Health Colorado were very affordable. I found a plan that only costs $25 with government subsidies. If I had a chronic health condition requiring medication like Mr. Leising, a "silver plan" would have provided even more generous coverage for only $75. Even without subsidies these plans would be about $150 to $200 respectfully. I could've definitely afforded that when I was working full time.

        I do agree that the Connect For Health Colorado web site can be a bit confusing and it certainly wasn't always clear to me how much the plans were and what exactly they covered. I would strongly encourage the subjects of the article to call the 1-855 PLANS 4 YOU number as I did, where an insurance navigator can better explain the plans. I think they too might be surprised by the generosity and affordability of the plans offered.


    • Andrew Carnegie says:

      V,  The plan only cost you $25.  

      The plan cost the rest of us now in two ways.  One, the amount of the direct government subsidy. Two, the required coverages that all are forced to buy and which many do not want which underwrite the cost of those that access those coverages.

      Perhaps Mr. Leising has an issue about accepting welfare payments or otherwise being a ward of the state.  Maybe he was brought up with the silly notion that he should be self-sufficient.  The wonderful generousity of the state has a cost both financial and spiritual.  In my view it should be avoided, if possible.

      • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

        Why did I just know this troll would go two rounds of BS, then pivot to freeeeedom when the BS didn't wash?

        Because I've been watching Pols trolls for a long long time. And they're all the same.

      • vertigo700 says:

        Actually even without any subsidy, the plan would be probably $200, which would likely cover a significant portion of Mr. Leising's health-care costs, including a lot of his prescription costs not to mention any complications as the result of his chronic health condition. Previous to Obamacare, it's quite possible that Mr. Leising would've been rejected at having health insurance at all (at least in the individual market) because of his pre-existing condition. He may not think he needs it or can afford it, but the mere fact that it exists for people with pre-existing conditions is a wonderful change.

        My sister has asthma and while she generally has it under control, she has had a few times where an attack has required hospitalization. Fortunately, her work has always provided her insurance and she was never faced with the thousands of dollars in medical expenses of someone hospitalized without health insurance. If something similar happened to Mr. Leising, what is the "financial and spiritual cost" then?

    • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

      Good letter. Now, if it were the Chieftain, it would never be published, but the DP might.

    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      Thanks for writing that letter. It always helps, even if your particular letter doesn't make it. They decide how many on each side of an issue to publish based on the proportion of letters received for each view. Yours is a good one, clear, concise and unemotional.

  6. Sunmusing says:

    Critical thinking, and truth seems to be missing from the gop/bagger and their supporters…The Post is not going to change…until they get rid of the propagandists…

    and a quick reply to AC…fuck off

  7. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Here's another suggestion for question to ask of another Obamacare horror story:

    Is it coming from Virginia? If so, be very skeptical.

    Virginia has a health exchange, but the topic of medicaid expansion is very, very hot in the VA legislature right now.  Governor McAuliffe wants it; the GOP legislature does not. Hence, the surfeit of VA obamacare-killed-my____(fill in the blank) stories.

    We can, unfortunately, expect a heart-string-tugging story out of Virginia every other day until this is resolved one way or another. After that, the GOP will just go back to their usual heartless " If you can't pay the premiums, you deserve to die" ideology.


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