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March 10, 2014 11:22 AM UTC

Another Low-Fact Denver Post Obamacare Horror Story

  • by: Colorado Pols
Your mileage may vary.
Your mileage may vary.

We've spent the last couple of weeks waiting for the next installment in a promised series of Denver Post stories about the effects of the Affordable Care Act in Colorado by grant-funded freelance write Art Kane. Kane's last story, as we and others explored in detail, was a disaster of factual inaccuracies and misleading anecdotes that severely hurt both Kane's credibility and that of the Denver Post. That story was subject to several rounds of corrections, which unfortunately couldn't help the front-page original subscribers saw in the print version. The fact that this story made it onto the Post's front page without elementary fact-checking remains a serious point of concern–which is why we were waiting for the next one.

Today, we finally have the next installment in Kane's Obamacare series–and it's little better than the last one. It begins, as with the story about the fictitious "$10,000 Obamacare deductible," with a vague anecdote:

As U.S. Sen. Mark Udall's office and the Colorado Division of Insurance clashed last fall over health policy cancellations and early renewals, Julie Dagnillo experienced the turmoil of health insurance changes firsthand.

Anthem canceled the small-group policy at her work because it did not meet the minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act. She said she earns too much to qualify for a subsidy on the state health insurance exchange. Her broker, who is certified with the exchange, told her she probably will pay at least $100 more a month for an individual plan purchased on the exchange, but that plan would have less coverage.

The insurer also sent her an early renewal for a policy she bought for her 23-year-old daughter, Lucy. The ACA allows children to stay on their parents' policies until 26, but the family decided the individual policy made more sense for Lucy…

"I'm completely outraged," said Dagnillo, a Pueblo resident. "We're the ones suffering the brunt for the entire nation. They're going to put us into poverty." [Pols emphasis]

Setting aside the fact that, as the saying goes, "the multiple of anecdote is not data," this newest anecdote on the front page of the Denver Post invites serious questions. First of all, the subsidies that many Americans qualify for to offset premium costs apply up to 400% of the poverty line–not to mention the subsidies that small businesses like the one Julie Dagnillo works for may qualify for as well. We have no idea why it would "make more sense" to not keep Dagnillo's daughter on her parents' plan until age 26 as the Affordable Care Act now allows, but it's well known that the plans individual insurers are offering consumers in these so-called "cancellation notices" are often much more costly than what's available on the exchange. And of course, unless Dagnillo's daughter has an atypically high income for a 23-year-old, she'll get a subsidy too.

Dagnillo fears the change will have her cutting out massages and stylist appointments and having to shop for groceries at discount retailers.

"I'm not going to have any disposable cash anymore," she said. "It will all go to health insurance." [Pols emphasis]

That of course sounds horrible–but the problem is, Kane doesn't include any hard numbers we can check against to verify what Ms. Dagnillo is asserting. Nowhere does this story say what she was paying previously, or what she would pay through the exchange–Kane just relies on Dagnillo's unverified claims, made via an unnamed broker who says she'll "probably" pay $100 more per month.

So what can we find out about Julie Dagnillo?

We know from this story that she believes Obamacare will drive her "into poverty," "suffering the brunt for the entire nation." But buried in Kane's story, which meanders into subjects like the debunked "conflict" between Sen. Mark Udall's office and the Division of Insurance over cancellations without reporting that story's resolution, are numbers that seem to indicate a much smaller rate of increase for premiums now than before Obamacare:

Before ACA, the five- year average annual policy increase was 12.1 percent for individual and 11.5 percent for small-group policies, according to the division.

Division records show Anthem's small-group policies saw a 5 percent increase, while Kaiser Permanente's was 3 percent for the temporary early renewals. Anthem had a 4.7 percent increase for individual early renewals, but the division did not have that information for Kaiser, Plymell said.

A major issue identified with the recent spate of factually-challenged "Obamacare horror stories" is that many "victims" just assume they won't qualify for assistance, assume horror stories they see in ads and news media also apply to them, and don't bother to actually check to find out what their rates would be. For a reporter, taking these statements from nonexperts without verifying their story is just plain irresponsible journalism. Also, it appears that most of this story was written before last week's two-year extension of existing policies announced by the Obama administration, which appears to undercut the entire premise. Kane acknowledges this essentially as a side note, which is ridiculous. Perhaps not unexpected for a freelance story that Kane knows won't be fact-checked anyway, but most reporters, when confronted with a new development that invalidates the story you're writing, start over.

And perhaps the most important thing you need to know: Julie Dagnillo is a registered Republican who voted in last year's successful recall of Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo. After Kane's last story and the many dubious horror stories being promoted by right-wing group Americans for Prosperity, this was our first question about Ms. Dagnillo, and our suspicions were quickly confirmed. Don't tell us that Dagnillo's party affiliation, a public record, isn't a fair point. The siloed distribution of information, and misinformation, about the Affordable Care Act means there's a huge gap in how individuals respond to the ACA based on  party affiliation. Without hard numbers that validate the claims Dagnillo is making, especially where those claims don't reconcile with the data showing that the rate of growth in health care costs is slowing–and that large numbers of individual policyholders are saving money with subsidized premiums–we can't place any credibility in her story at all.

And there is an undeniable glaring motive for this woman either not knowing the facts, or not wanting to. In short, what we have here is another shoddy, anecdotal horror story Obamacare on the front page of the Denver Post–and without any counterbalancing story about the many consumers benefiting from the new law. Instead of reporting on the many thousands of success stories of the last few months, we get more horror stories and anecdotes that fall apart under scrutiny. Kane's last story at least had numbers in it, which were rapidly debunked. Simply omitting numbers and relying on the anecdotes is not an improvement.

As we said last time, the Post's readers deserve better than this. There are only a few weeks left for consumers to take advantage of open enrollment in the exchange, and bad reporting like this is doing both Obamacare and the public a material disservice. It's a travesty that this kind of venal sloppiness is the best our local media can do on such an important issue.


51 thoughts on “Another Low-Fact Denver Post Obamacare Horror Story

  1. Attack the victim? Stay classy, Colorado Pols. At least in Colorado, Democrats have you to do their dirty work.

    You should be ashamed of yourself. These are real people telling their stories, and you are attacking them from your anonymous political blog. You're worse than Gary Peters.

    1. Probably should have posted this here but saw Monday open thread first:

      Love the way she says she'd have to give up massages, hairstylist appointments and start grocery shopping at discount stores, all to make up for $100 a month, when she makes too much for subsidies. And I'm not being snarky because I think those are luxuries she should do without. Lord knows I'd hate to go back to doing my own coloring and no one wants to cut their own hair.  I just don't think she'd have to. 

      One massage combined with one cut and color a month costs well over a hundred so if she can afford both now she doesn't need to cut both, especially if she is now able to afford more than one massage a month. But she probably doesn't need to eliminate either of those things.  

      Shopping what's on sale at regular supermarkets as well as discount grocers alone can save you $25 a week for $100 a month easily, especially if one of them offers a good discount point system for gas. We get between 30 and 60 cents a gallon off every month at one of my regular shopping destinations without spending any more than we would at another store without that perk.  Check out the produce, poultry, meat and fish prices, especially what's on sale, at Sprouts, for instance. They're fantastic and it's good stuff.  Making your coffee at home in the morning instead of grabbing it out all the time saves you a considerable amount too and with timers you can have it waiting for you so it's even faster than picking it up to go.

      And if that extra hundred buys you better coverage and you need the massages for therapeutic purposes they'll probably be covered. Bet she can get her doctor to prescribe massage therapy for arthritis or some other middle age related aches and pains.

      In all likelihood this woman will not need to go around shaggy and grey, unmassaged or low on groceries in order to afford the better coverage and could easily wind up spending no more or even less over all on a monthly basis.

      – See more at:

    2. Your comments are reprehensible.  You should be embarrassed supporting the repetition of such mistruths, but I don't believe you have the grace to do so.  You repeat them yourself.  This causes real harm.  The truth will out, and harm will also come, even more so than it already has, to the reputation of your party.

    3. Local Colorado Republican hasn't really researched it and dosen't really know, but thinks Obamacare is going to keep her from being able to afford her massages and stylist appointments, and she's mad as hell at Obama about it.

      Is the DPO trying to outdo the Onion ? 

    4. It's fair to ask. The person in the article, according to basic research, is not only a Republican, but one who is active enough to have voted in the recall election. That's probably not a presidential election only voter, or a non-voter – it's an activist who might just have a vested interest in spreading negative information.

      It's also fair to dismiss the attack if it proves not to be a part of the story.

      What appears to be clearing up is that Kane is getting his stories fed to him by right-wing sources, and that he's not bothering to fact-check (or is actively avoiding fact-checking). If this is a continuing series, we can file it under "might wurlitzer" rather than investigative award-winner.

    5. Colorado Pols is showing their true colors. Blame the victims, praise Obamacare no matter how many people it hurts. Why do you think the public has tuned against them?

      1. Who is this "them" of whom you speak?

        The ACA is gaining support as people are realizing the world isn't falling down around them. And the media – at least the media that isn't so desperate that they need 3rd party front page editorials – is realizing that these "Obamacare horror stories" are part of a national trend of poorly researched, factually hollow hit pieces that seem to originate from Americans For Progress – a Koch brothers front group.

        Why are we questioning Kane and his "victims"? Because his first story turned out to be a bunch of BS, and because there is a growing collection of similar post-bovine refuse piling up around the country.

      2. Oh – answer me this? What victims are we blaming, and what are we blaming them for? Every one of these stories so far has either revolved around false claims, or ultra-conservatives who are too proud to look on the exchange and so get screwed by their insurance company or their own stubbornness.

        Every single one of these stories to date has a follow-up that reads something like "I searched on the exchange for a plan for the 'victim' and found a quote that was much better than she claimed…"

        I mean, it's a great campaign if you want to screw people out of a good deal that you're scared might actually be popular. But it's intellectually bankrupt.

    6. Oh, by the way. The Julie in your video, Modster, is a different Julie than the one in the diary. My comments refer to Julie Dagnillo, the one in the diary who apparently doesn't have any devastating illness. As for your Julie, once again, it turns out she's going to be saving money. 

      Now even though she really does have leukemia that doesn't make her claims about ACA true. So is this the GOTP strategy? Have people with real illnesses appear in their media to spread their misinformation and then attack anyone who points out that the information is incorrect for being mean to sick people? How utterly cynical.

      1. The sad part about Julie Boonstra's case isn't that she's still willing to be a front for anti-ACA conspiracy ads, it's that she refuses to believe the plain facts.

        Shown the details of her plan and how it will save her $1200 per year, she says simply "I refuse to believe it!"

        Denial. It ain't just a river in Egypt.

    7. You've swallowed another Koch-tale Hook line and sinker, Moddy.  Try the truth sometime, I promise you'll find it invigorating:

      Before her plan was canceled, Boonstra was paying a $1,100 monthly premium. That's $13,200 a year, without adding out-of-pocket expenses like co-pays and prescription drugs. But under her new plan, the Blue Cross Premier Gold, Boonstra's premiums are down to $571 a month, and out-of-pocket costs are capped at $5,100. That's a maximum annual expense of $11,952 a year.

      According to The Detroit News, Boonstra said it “can’t be true” that her new coverage is cheaper than her old.

      “I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.


  2. Another debunked Obamacare horror story making the rounds:

    OMG! Did you know that elders will have to be put in nursing homes instead of receiving home health care because of the evil Affordable Care Act? This is via Dan Weber, a columnist for Sun Myung Moon's legacy news outlet, the Washington Times.

    It isn't true, of course.

    The Affordable Care Act actually includes provisions for home health care within the Medicare expansion. It's called the Community First Choice Option. (page 4 of the  Affordable Care Act)States which opted not to expand Medicaid are not eligible for this benefit, so people mad that this option isn't available in their home state should be mad at their governors and legislators, not Obama.

    There is nothing in the ACA which mandates that elders must go into nursing homes rather than receive home health care, if it is appropriate.

    Now here's a true health care horror story:

    Imagine that you've been paying $5 a month for your generic heart medicine, for years. Suddenly that increases to $60 a month. This happened, this month with the generic drug digoxin.

    Generic drug prices are mysteriously increasing by up to 6000 percent. This includes commonly used pain and antibiotic medicines such as tetracycline and digoxin. Medlr bluntly calls this "price gouging".  The only rationale behind depriving many low income folks of needed meds is because it's profitable, and because they can.

    For myself, the Affordable Care Act will now allow me to use the power of group insurance to still obtain my meds at $5 – whereas the "discount card" program I used previously would not.

    So where is the right wing outrage, the Fox reporting, the Breitbart specials, the Andrew Carnegie first thing in the a.m. post? You all do care about healthcare needs, right? right?


  3. OH NO.  Someone has something bad to say about Udall care.  What are the resident low-voltage intellects at Colorado Pols going to do?

    Here are the choices:

    1.  They are liars.

    2.  I think they should be grateful that we are spending their money more wisely for them than they otherwise would.

    3.  These are merely antedotes, not real data (Psst, the government is not collecting the data).

    4.  The person who is hurt in not a true believer like we are (Dems) so who cares if they are hurt.

    The Jonestown Koolaid drinkers had nothing on Colorado Pols.

    1. I'm having a hard time understanding what a "low-voltage intellect" is.  "Low wattage" has some pedigree as meaning "not to bright," but given the progress in energy saving bulb technology, that should be losing its sting as an insult.  But "low-voltage"?  Compared to what?  And are we talking V AC or V DC?

        1. So, the people who LIE about the ACA, who'd really rather go back to the GOP plan of "Everyone should have as much health care as they can afford" are the real victims here. 

          They're so brave…..It's surprising they can get anything accomplished, suffering from such a devastating persecution complex. 

          1. It's mean to call sick people liars or even misinformed. That's the reason for the latest rightie craze, finding people with real illnesses and conditions to spread their misinformation. 

            This tactic gets around having their much less sympathetic pols lie about stuff that's easily fact checked. Nobody minds if you call a pol a liar but to point out that a genuinely sick person is putting out misinformation allows them to do all kinds of pearl clutching about what terrible heartless people we are which distracts from the fact that we're telling the truth and the sick people, whether on purpose or through being misled themselves, are not.

            Unfortunately it seems like a pretty good tactic since they can apparently rely on most of the media to just regurgitate the misinformation without bothering to do any fact checking first. They'd hate to be accused of being mean to sick people over at the Post, right?

  4. Re: generic meds price gouging: I posted the wrong charts:

    Here's one for digoxin:

    MedLR says:

    Lannett – Digoxin: This one is pretty simple. Lannett raised prices on digoxin, a tablet for heart rhythm problems, when competitor West-Ward faced manufacturing issues. Lannett's management has cited higher FDA compliance costs as the reason for the price increase. That justification might be correct in spirit, but 800% seems, shall we say, a bit high.

    And here's a chart for price gouging on Mylan Lab's Clomipramine, an antidepressant:

    This company, Mylan Labs, also manufactures the "Epipen", used to prevent choking from airway closure during extreme allergic reactions. Schools buy it and need it a few times a year for students. Mylan raised the price on the Epipen by  over 1000%. Their epilepsy drug? Raised by 6,000%.

    Still waiting on the Faux News outrage, the copycat posts on every conservative blog, the early morning "gotcha" posts.





  5. My experience with signing up for ACA was initially bumpy but now all good. I'm a 63 y/o male with pre-existing

    From '94-2011 I was self-employed. Paid the highest rate of income tax and not eligible for any group insurance. My policy was "canceled" every year with a new one offered at a higher rate. Every year my rate increase by 10% or more and by June of '11 I was paying $1253/mo to Rocky Mountain Health Plan. In June of '11 I began a 1 year employment that provide really good benefits which I continued following June '12 through Dec '13 with COBRA. Great insurance and evven under COBRA I was only paying $560/mo.

    So, I was really glad that beginning this January ACA would be available to me until I qualify for Medicare. I purchase a Bronze plan from Rocky Mountain for $721.97/mo. Deductible is marginally higher than the last plan I had with them but my actual cost will be lower. This is because almost all of my costs under the previous plan were due to costs incurred during my annual physical which are now free. When I had to have a colonoscopy several years ago I paid $5K for that. Now, when that is repeated it will be free

    1. the initial bumps I reference were due to limited rural broadband and some issues with the website. The website did not tell me that I was required to apply for Medicaid. I knew I'd be declined. I did not and do not want to qualify for any subsidy.

      Given the way rates were increasing previously without ACA I'm sure I'd be paying $1500/mo by now. It was always the highest expense I had. The only thing that would be more expensive would be to break a hip or something WITHOUT insurance 

  6. It's not attacking the victim to ask her to back up her statements.  And, I wonder what she would have to give up if she actually got sick under her old policy that must not have covered much to be discontinued (eventually) due to the new Act.


    1. Thanks. Pointing out that it's ridiculous to claim you'd have to give up way more than $100 worth of stuff to cover a $100 increase and that there are some pretty painless ways for a person making enough so that they don't qualify for subsidies to cut $100 bucks from their budget and that better coverage could actually cut down on their expenses rather than increase them at all isn't attacking anyone or anything but ridiculousness.

        1. They keep putting out easily debunked horror stories and then blame those who bother to uncover the actual facts for being mean. Guess they think it's mean to point out that their stories don't hold water and the victims are therefore not really victims. 

          I also find it stunning that they demand victimhood for someone who might possibly have to do more shopping at Costco (which has quality stuff BTW) or give up one of several massage appointments in a month while complaining that poor people aren't really poor and don't deserve assistance because they have refrigerators. For the poor, that equates to the greedy bastards are living like kings. But where ACA is concerned, if somebody who counts (white Republican) has to make their mani-pedis last little longer between appointments it's "Oh the humanity!"

  7. These are the numbers from Forbes.  These numbers assume full implementation which is now scheduled to take place sometime after we are liberated from the Obama reign of terror.

      1. Are those your final suggestions for conservatives, or are you using your amazing mind-reading powers to decode liberal thought waves?

        Damn – where's that tin-foil hat when I need it?

        1. MJ,n3b is just distilling the hateful remarks of JB so that other true believers who have difficulty reading get the gist.

          The victim is a conservative so it doesn't matter.

      2. No. Your complaints have to be fact based. She says she's going to have to give up her hair stylist and massages and go to discount food stores to make up for a $100 a month increase that gets her better insurance.  Why would she have to make several hundred dollars in cuts (do you know what massages and a good cut and color alone cost?) to make up for a $100 increase? Answer. She doesn't. 

        At an income level above qualifying for subsidies just becoming more sale oriented in your shopping would probably do the trick. We're not talking about someone with a low income choosing between medicine and food here. 

        People living on the edge who would be plunged into poverty by a $100 increase don't have their own businesses with employees and aren't getting massages and shopping at higher end stores or getting their hair colored professionally in the first place. I don't think this lady is much of a victim. I think she'll be just fine, still well groomed and still with the means to have enough quality groceries in the house even with the increase. And she'll also have better insurance. It probably will cover therapeutic massage.

      3. Oh, get off the fainting couch, one is calling for the deaths of Conservatives like you. We know it will happen naturally, like it did to the dinosaurs. 

        However, you're always welcome to join the ranks of the evolved.

    1. So, for Conservatives…

      People not having medical care, or paying for plans that don't provide them care…FREE MARKET! LIBERTY!!

      Spoiled Right-Wing mouthpiece may have to give up some massages, pedicures, and hair appointments….TRAGEDY! WE IZ PERSECOOTED!!! 

  8. I find this article to be even stranger than the last one. I mean..why start with the Mark Udall thing for an article about dropped plans? I get that there was a little kerfuffle, but is that really the lede of this story? And why is this even more unbalanced than the last story (which found at least one person that had a sort-of positive experience)? Kane couldn't find anyone to say, "Oh yeah, my health insurance dropped, but I found a good plan on the exchanges."

    You know there is a problem when the headline is something as "Colorado not tracking premium changes." That is the story? And yet a lot of ink is used to talk about Udall and this one person's very negative ACA story.

    If I were to write a story about ACA in Colorado, I would be a lot more consumer-focused. Explain how the system works. Explain who would benefit the most and who might actually be harmed by the law (and I do think there are some). Explain the available options to people who are dropped by their insurance companies because of ACA. Explain how subsidies work and who qualifies for them. Explain the minimum coverage assured by these new plans.

    Do so much more than offer misleading anecdotes and vague statistics coupled with confusing official "statements." There are some potentially useful stories about the ACA, but none of Arthur Kane's come even close.

  9. V,  The reason you start with Mark Udall about dropped plans?  

    Without Mark Udall's vote the plans would not have been dropped.

    Sometimes the truth hurts, but it is still the truth.

    1. A troll who has yet to give us one story about a single needy or ill person losing coverage and not being able to replace it at comparable or less cost that actually checks out. Yes, the truth hurts. It hurts the lying trolls.

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