Skip to main content

Here's the truth about Obamacare

By Sally Kohn, Special to CNN
November 8, 2013 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sally Kohn: Republicans are desperate to destroy Obamacare at any cost
  • Kohn: Stories about people supposedly harmed by the law are not always true
  • She says journalists are digging into allegations, helping us all sort fact from fiction
  • Kohn: The website still has glitches, but old-fashioned reporting is very reliable

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter at @sallykohn.

(CNN) -- The Obamacare website might still not be working, but journalists are. All across the country, as Republicans try to highlight tragic tales of Americans losing their current health insurance and allegedly stuck with more expensive options, journalists are coming to the rescue. In case after case, journalists investigated these stories and called the policyholders and combed the insurance exchange websites to bring actual facts to bear in our public debate about Obamacare.

Here are just some of the mythical stories journalists have helped dispel — and the lessons we can learn from them about the reality of the Affordable Care Act:

Deborah Cavallaro was making the rounds on television complaining about how her current insurance plan was canceled under Obamacare. So Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik talked to her. Her current plan cost $293 per month but had a deductible of $5,000 per year and out-of-pocket annual limits of $8,500. Also, the current plan covered just two doctor's visits per year.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

But in the California insurance exchange, which Hiltzik helped Cavallaro check, she could get a "silver" plan for $333 per month — $40 more than she's currently paying. But the new plan has only a $2,000 deductible and maximum out-of-pocket expenses at $6,350. Plus all doctor visits would be covered. Hiltzik writes, "Is that better than her current plan? Yes, by a mile."

Dianne Barrette also popped up on television on a CBS news report in which she lamented that her $54-per-month insurance plan had been canceled under Obamacare. But Nancy Metcalf at Consumer Reports investigated Barrette's story and found that her current policy was a "textbook example of a junk plan that isn't real health insurance at all." According to Metcalf, if Barrette had ever tried to use her insurance for anything more than a sporadic doctor's visit, "she would have ended up with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt."

The plan, for instance, only pays for hospitalization in cases of "complications of pregnancy." Instead, Metcalf found that Barrette could get a "silver" plan in the state insurance exchange for $165 per month that would actually cover Barrette in the case of any sort of serious or even moderate illness. Which is the very definition of insurance, isn't it?

Edie Littlefield Sundby, a stage-four gallbladder cancer survivor, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blaming the Affordable Care Act for her canceled insurance policy. In her essay, Littlefield wrote that because of Obamacare, "I have been forced to give up a world-class health plan." But, according to Igor Volsky of Think Progress, Sundby's insurer, United Healthcare, "dropped her coverage because they've struggled to compete in California's individual health care market for years and didn't want to pay for sicker patients like Sundby."

Earlier this year, United, which has publicly supported the Affordable Care Act, announced that it would pull out of the individual market in California. A company representative said it withdrew because its individual plans have never had a huge presence in the state. According to United, and in compliance with state law, the company won't be able to re-enter the California individual market until 2017.

By then though, competitors will get stuck with sicker patients like Sundby signing up in the first wave of Obamacare. This means that companies like United can cover cheaper patients if it decides to go back to the California individual insurance market.

According to a report by Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memo, a Seattle woman named Donna received a cancellation letter from her insurance company regarding her current plan. The letter steered Donna and her family into a more expensive option and said, "If you're happy with this plan, do nothing." The letter made no mention of the Washington State insurance exchange, where Donna could find plenty of other more affordable choices, because the company wanted a convenient excuse to jack up Donna's rates.

Had Donna "done nothing," she would have ended up spending about $1,000 more per month on insurance than the cost of insurance she ultimately chose through the Obamacare exchange. In fact, the practice of trying to mislead customers has become so widespread that Washington state regulators issued a consumer alert to customers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Republicans who have been desperate from the very beginning to destroy Obamacare at any cost, regardless of facts or the urgent health care crisis facing America, will continue to dig up stories of people supposedly harmed by the law. And journalists will hopefully continue to investigate these allegations, helping us all sort fact from fiction.

In the meantime, there's a side benefit to all this: If you are one of the small fraction of Americans who currently relies on the individual insurance market and has seen your current policy canceled, call a journalist — like one of those in the stories above. Reporters all across the country are hungry for real-life stories about how Obamacare is working.

Plus, most reporters have access to high-speed Internet. If you can't get through to the Obamacare exchange site, there's a journalist standing by willing to help you navigate the exchange options and explore your pros and cons in terms of costs and benefits. The website might still be glitchy, but old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting is as reliable as ever.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include United Healthcare' explanation of its withdrawal from California's individual insurance marketplace.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sally Kohn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT