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November 04, 2014 10:11 AM UTC

Cory Gardner and the Elephant Still in the Room

  • by: Colorado Pols
Gardner redacted
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner waves around his (redacted) health insurance letter while speaking in Congress.

Most media outlets have a policy that prohibits them from doing any hard-hitting news stories about a campaign once we reach the weekend before Election Day [insert obvious joke here]. It is a practice that we don’t disagree with, because it would be unfair to drop a bombshell accusation on a candidate in a news story if they don’t have enough time before Election Day to attempt to refute the claim.

Anything that was going to be reported about the big 2014 races has either been done already or won’t resurface until after Election Day. There are probably plenty of untold campaign stories, but we’re particularly interested in one specific loop that never did get closed by the media – even though numerous reporters poked around the edges. Call it, “The Elephant (Still) In the Room.”

Republican Rep. Cory Gardner had plenty of prepared talking points about why he decided to run for the U.S. Senate when he announced his intentions last February. At the top of that list was Gardner’s very own Obamacare Horror Story — a story that Gardner played up for the national media last fall before balking at answering further questions. Here’s Gardner’s Obamacare story, in his own words, from a speech on the House Floor on September 26, 2013:

The plan that my family had was an affordable plan. We shopped for it. We worked hard to find a plan that met our needs in rural Colorado. We found a plan that is now being cancelled and the plan that replaces it now increases in cost by over 100%. In fact, the plan that is most similar to the one we had is now going up to $1,480 a month — it’s a 100% increase from the plan that we had.

And here’s Gardner one day later, appearing on CNN’s Crossfire:

[Holding up letter.] "I'm going to be paying 100 percent more. A hundred percent more under my plan. Thanks to Obama. I'm choosing the plan that is most similar to the plan that cost me $650 before."

Gardner has repeatedly said that he had a health insurance plan that covered his wife and two children at a monthly cost of just $650 (Gardner claimed to have opted-out of the insurance plan offered to Members of Congress). Gardner then said that the most comparable “replacement” plan offered to his family would cost “$1,480,” which he said would cost his family 100% more money. Gardner even went so far as to say that the “replacement” plans for his family were somehow inferior to the coverage he received when paying just $650 per month.

This story that Gardner told on the House Floor and in a House Committee Hearing (in front of then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius) was repeated in an Op-Ed in the Colorado Springs Gazette, again during his Senate campaign kick-off, throughout his campaign for Senate, and in at least one television advertisement. It was a story that formed the very basis of Gardner’s entire campaign for U.S. Senate.

But is it true?

Logic would dictate that these two statements could not both be correct:

  1. Gardner paid $650 for a health insurance plan that was comprehensive and robust.
  2. The most comparable replacement plan offered to Gardner under the Affordable Care Act was a low-deductible “Silver” plan with a $1,480 monthly premium. 

Perhaps Gardner had good reason for refusing to cooperate with reporters inquiring about his health insurance story. Potentially, Gardner could have had a “catastrophic” health insurance policy, or perhaps a health savings account (HSA) with a high deductible insurance plan, but that's clearly not the comparison that Gardner is trying to make with his Obamacare story. Furthermore, as anyone who has ever had to pay for family health insurance can attest, it seems completely implausible that anyone could have had robust health insurance coverage with a monthly premium of just $650.

If you believe that Gardner did have a $650 monthly policy, you cannot also believe that the most comparable replacement plan was a near-top-of-the-line $1,480 “Silver” plan.

As Gardner’s story gained national attention last fall, multiple media outlets began digging deeper on his health insurance claims. Fox 31 reporter Eli Stokols was among the first to start asking questions…and the first to get rebuffed. As Stokols reported in October 2013, Gardner would not corroborate his story:

Since then, FOX31 Denver has asked Gardner to provide a copy of the letter or to provide additional details about the policies.

Five times.

After our story aired on Good Day Colorado Friday morning, Gardner released a copy of the letter with some information redacted, that he says his family received.

See that letter here.

Gardner’s immediate and persistent refusal to provide more details about his “$650 health insurance plan” was another eyebrow-raising moment. The “$1,480 plan” that Gardner references when discussing his “policy cancellation” indicates that Gardner believed the closest comparable plan to his $650 policy was a low-deductible “Silver” comprehensive health plan from Rocky Mountain Health Plans (when he finally released his letter, it was RMHP that was shown to be his insurance carrier). If Gardner did indeed have a comprehensive $650 plan, then why not just reveal the details to reporters?

Why duck and cover if you can stand and dismiss instead?

That Gardner refused to provide details of his miraculous $650 insurance plan, despite numerous media requests, made plenty of reporters wonder if there was more to the story. Many media members seemed to be on the trail as the 2014 campaign entered its final months — particularly when Gardner began to run a television ad with the same story. 9News reporter Brandon Rittiman did his own "Truth Test" of Gardner's ad, and ended up with…well, not a lot of "truth." As Rittiman concluded:

As for the congressman's personal story, you should take it with a grain of salt because we don't have all the details.

During an interview with Gardner weeks later, Rittiman again tried to get some answers:

RITTIMAN (4:10): We also asked a few times for Garder to share details of his cancelled healthcare plan, which he's used as an issue in the campaign. No dice, but he did offer this retort…

…RITTIMAN: You don't want to discuss the details of your old plan?

In late September, Stokols sat down for an interview with Gardner and questioned him on a number of topics (this is the same interview where Gardner really went off the rails with his "There is no federal personhood bill" shtick). For the purposes of this story, skip ahead to the 1:42 mark:

STOKOLS: “A lot of folks heard that number — $650 a month for a family of four – and thought it was incredibly low. So we did try to confirm that, and your office denied our request.”

In this same interview, Stokols says that Gardner’s office refused a request to look at copies of his Congressional pay stubs, which could indicate whether Gardner had some kind of additional health insurance coverage prior to the Affordable Care Act. It's an interesting, and legitimate, line of inquiry; Gardner could have had a $650 policy for someone in his family if he also had additional insurance.

About 10 days later, the Denver Post picked up on the thread during their live Senate debate. Here's Denver Post political editor Chuck Plunkett:

PLUNKETT: While you've been quick to waive the letter around and criticize Obamacare, you've redacted the portion about the specific plan your family was using. Why won't you tell voters what was in that plan? Why the secrecy?

Gardner ducks and dodges again at this question, which leads to separate follow-up questions from Plunkett — including a pretty damning statement about the believability of Gardner's answers:

PLUNKETT (1:26): Why did you redact a portion of the specific plan that your family was using?…

…PLUNKETT (2:35): Sometimes if a candidate doesn't answer a question that also tells you something about the candidate that voters can know. [Pols emphasis]

Gardner did not, and would not, discuss details of his old health insurance plan, no matter who asked. Reporters weren’t asking Gardner for any details about his family’s health and well-being – they just wanted proof of the fantastical story Gardner spun on Capitol Hill.

So why the secrecy?

Well, it's pretty clear that this story has the potential to create a whole series of devastating problems for Gardner. If Gardner can’t prove his story true, then the entire affair takes different turn: It means Gardner told a pre-meditated lie both on the House floor and in a Congressional Committee. It means that at least one of his campaign ads on the subject was knowingly false. It means the entire premise of his campaign for U.S. Senate was a lie.

Maybe there's nothing to this story, but if that's the case, why did Gardner and his campaign work so hard to avoid answering seemingly innocuous questions? What does Rocky Mountain Health Plans (RMHP) have to say? Could Gardner have had some sort of robust insurance policy in 2013 at the low cost of $650? Without getting into details, RMHP should be able to answer questions about whether or not they even sold such a cheap product.

Whatever the reason, it seems obvious that Gardner wanted to get through his U.S. Senate campaign without ever actually answering questions about his "Obamacare Horror Story" that he claimed as the impetus for running in the first place. Regardless of what happens on Election Day, this is still a story with questions that need answers.  


15 thoughts on “Cory Gardner and the Elephant Still in the Room

  1. The explanation for Gardner's refusal is simple. The  terrific full coverage $650 plan covering a family of 4 never existed as anyone without employer coverage who has ever shopped for their own insurance could tell you. Yes, it was a premeditated lie for the purpose of deceiving and falsely characterizing ACA. Period. No ifs ands or buts. Gardner didn't misspeak. He lied and redacted in a lame attempt to cover his lie. And no, Udall being mistaken about the fact that insurance plans you liked could still be canceled under ACA (though mainly that was a technicality with no consequences other than quick replacement) just as insurance plans you liked could always be canceled prior to ACA, isn't the same Johnny did it too kind of thing. So don't bother, shut up, modster and Piss Ant.

    1. Considering how much it cost me 10 years ago for then-healthy single person coverage in a group plan in the Denver metro, there is ZERO chance Gardner had coverage for four at $650/month last year in rural Colorado as an individual.

      1. Precisely. But you'll notice our righties never claim Gardner didn't make this up out of whole cloth. They simple sidestep by saying that Udall lied too, which, of course, has nothing to do with Gardner's character or lack thereof. We all know that the Johnny did it too argument, whether accurate or not (coming from our trolls usually not), is an admission that your guy's behavior is no worse but also no better than Johnny's. It's the argument you resort to only when you know that your guy's behavior is indefensible. 

        I would have a couple of questions for them. Do you believe Gardner's family of four actually had quality coverage, better than an ACA silver plan, for merely $650 a month?

        If no, isn't it fair to say that Gardner, without reference to anyone else's behavior, lied about it for political purposes when he made that claim but redacted the actual figures from said policy when he displayed it? 

        If yes, would you care to purchase my gold pooping unicorn for just $29.99? Act today and I'll throw in a life time supply of unicorn cleaning sham wows for free.

        1. The real issue for me is that the so-called "lie" that ACHole and the GOP use against Udall wasn't a lie.  It was a misguided attempt to take a complex scenario — your future health insurance coverage — and put it in a simple sound bite statement that the media would appreciate and pass along to Americans.  Unfortunately, it was a gross oversimplification.  But there was no intent to deliberately mislead.  And it happened years ago, and was not repeated.

          Unlike the never-ending stream of fresh, new bold-faced lies Cory Gardner and the rest of the GOP merrily invent and repeat that the media barely questions, and when stonewalled, meekly retreat and let it go.

          Do they get a volume discount on lies, while we meekly accept the GOP framing of a badly executed soundbite as the worst lie this side of "there are no missiles in Cuba"?

          I don't believe it.

          1. Exactly. It 's clear what Obama and Dem supporters meant was that this isn't a government takeover. ACA doesn't force you to give up insurance you like and get some government option instead. It was stupid of them to oversimplify that into a promise that you could keep any insurance you like since that has never been true. Insurers have always had the ability to end plans you like, or kick you out of plans you like.

            While ACA  does forbid plans from dropping you if you get too sick or barring you for pre-existing conditions it doesn't order insurers to keep offering plans whether they want to or not.  Republicans aren't the only ones who don't give the public enough credit to understand anything but short sound bites.  But that's a far cry from pretending you had a $650 insurance policy that did things for a family of four that no policy at that price ever did just so you can wave a redacted policy around and complain about ACA being worse and more expensive.

            The fact that Gardner thought that figure would be at all credible just shows how ignorant he is about what people have to spend to buy their families' decent insurance. That  ridiculously low figure is a dead give away that he just made it up. It's been decades since a family of four could get quality coverage for that price.

            1. I had a health insurance plan I liked – and it was canceled. That's because ACA only subsidized my health insurance through the Colorado Health Exchange while I was a "working poor" substitute teacher, with an income below the poverty line.  Horrors! I even received food stamps. Now that's gone too, as my income makes me ineligible. It must be Obama's fault somehow.

              Now that I am again a more or less gainfully employed salaried teacher, I have employer-contributed health insurance. This means that I will be taking my turn to contribute taxes and pay my wealth forward for others who are less fortunate, such as those in the red states who hate  to pay taxes, but use the safety net, complaining about lazy welfare queens all the while.

              It's how the system is supposed to work, y'all. Most of the time, government assistance is a temporary "hand up" so that people can stabilize themselves, and in turn, earn money and keep the system rolling.

               Ayn Rand notwithstanding. She was on the dole herself, after all.

            2. I don't have the link handy, but I read an article a week or two ago that basically said that the GOP can get away with these malicious lies because there is no Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow to face down these scumbags.

              The decline of the media — focusing on infotainment instead of hard nosed journalizm — in the past 40 years is deplorable.

              Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post might have been the last lion of the journalist spirit.  Today's shellshocked (or worse –complicit) editors and reporters cower before their owners and can't or won't stand up for the truth if it might cost them profits or their jobs.

  2. Let me start by saying I'm a diehard Democrat. I like Mark Udall, a lot. I dislike Cory Gardner, even more. Gardner is an amalgam of Ken Buck and Tom Tancredo, with a boyish smile stuck on – nothing more.

    OK, now that I've established my bona fides: I have a real problem with Coloradopols' Big Line, which still puts Udall's odds at retaining his seat at 60-40, and with a downward arrow on Gardner's 40. It just doesn't make sense or square with any semblance of reality, it seems to me.

    I've always thought that the Big Line is who IS leading, not who we'd LIKE to have leading. For example, you have Romanoff 50-50 with that fool Coffman – and that traitorous nincompoop Doug Lamborn well ahead of Irv Halter. Yet for some reason, for weeks now, the Big Line has been stuck at Udall 60, Gardner 40.

    Look: it's the Republicans who are in the business of ignoring reality (global warming, income inequality, evolution) in favor of their quasi-religious viewpoints. Democrats should at least preserve their intellectual integrity by refusing to engage in the same nonsense.

    I hope and pray that Udall will pull it off and that Gardner will be sent packing. But putting that race at 60-40 is just like the Republican take on global warming: it ignores reality.

  3. Cory is a liar and if Colorado elects him its going to be a sad day.  Republicans don't give two cents about morality unless they are talking about the unborn or gays.  

    What do we think the first new law the Republican led Senate will pass?  It won't be a jobs bill and my money is on an Obamacare repeal that is headed towards a veto (what a waste of time).  Then they can focus on GUNS, GAYS and WOMEN as the next targets for their vision of America.  Sigh……

  4. I'm not sure who the guy wearing the green-striped tie standing behind the liar is . . .

    . . . but his expression pretty much says it all!

     (i.e., "No way is your dad believing that horseshit about how his car got wrecked.")

  5. Cory knows that you can't just be against something–even if that something is Obamacare. You have to be for something–such as, in this case, obfuscation.

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