Americans for Prosperity has gotten flack for ads purporting to show Obamacare horror stories that turned out to be misleading. That includes here in Arkansas. So the latest ad buy in the state ($540,000, see above) avoids specific gripes that might whither under fact-checking, and instead features truck driver Jerry Buckley of Marion lamenting that the law’s impact has been confusing.
The ad appears to be a direct response to criticisms of a previous ad buy in Arkansas (see the ad at the bottom of this post). That one told the story of Wanda, Jerry’s wife. Wanda makes reference to receiving a letter announcing that her Blue Cross Blue Shield plan would be cancelled at the end of 2014, as a message flashes across the screen: “DUE TO OBAMACARE HER PLAN WAS CANCELLED.” The only problem: a few weeks prior to the ad airing, the Arkansas Insurance Department had released a bulletin allowing people to keep plans not compliant with Obamacare through October of 2017. Wanda can, in fact, keep her plan, at least for several more years.
“While there may be some timing issues, it still speaks to the problems with the ACA,” AFP Arkansas Director Jason Cline told Huffington Post when they asked about the Wanda ad’s accuracy.
Cue her husband Jerry, in the new ad: “We got a letter telling us our current policy was going to be cancelled. Even though I’ve seen reports where our insurance commissioner’s granted another 2-year extension, we’ve yet to see anything telling us we’re going to be extended. It’s like living in a haze.”
Since there’s so much confusion, I thought I’d go ahead and call Blue Cross. After all, just because Blue Cross can keep offering the plan under the law doesn’t mean that they will. And based on the ads, it sounds like Jerry and Wanda Buckley would like some clarification. Well, Arkansas BCBS spokesperson Max Greenwood confirmed for me that the company will use the extension and allow customers who currently have non-compliant plans the opportunity to renew. They can keep renewing through the fall of 2016 (which would then extend coverage through October of 2017). Blue Cross has not yet contacted customers informing of them of this option since customers are still months away from a renewal decision, which explains why the Buckleys haven’t heard anything yet. The company plans to contact the relevant customers about the option to keep their plan closer to next year’s open enrollment period next fall.
For Jerry and Wanda Buckley, who prefer to keep their current plan, this is good news! It’s unfortunate that they still don’t know. I can’t help but wonder whether the feeling of “living in a haze” has been exacerbated by AFP’s variety of misleading arguments and misleading ads about the new health care law.
Tom Cotton‘s political director, state Rep. John Burris, took to social media to defend the original Wanda ad.
“A temporary reprieve from outcome doesn’t change outcome,” Burris wrote. It’s true that despite the clarification, under current law the Buckleys’ plan would end in 2017 (though perhaps worth noting that turnover in the individual, non-group market has always been very frequent, and very few people keep the same plan for even two years). In terms of political point-scoring, you can chalk this up however you’d like. But for the people impacted like the law, the difference between a plan ending now and a plan ending years from now is not trivial. The problem with the Wanda ad wasn’t so much the political argument. The problem was that it was misleading to people like Wanda.
And now we have the Jerry ad, in which Wanda’s husband, exasperated, says, “It was taken away from us or it was given back to us…we don’t know what it’s been now!” That’s a question that AFP could answer for him! Remember, the advocacy group is “committed to educating citizens about…policy.” Sadly, Jerry is describing his feeling of being in a “haze” to the very folks who hope to profit politically off of as much haze and confusion as they can muster.