Another day, another Obamacare horror story. Only this one was different, because it came from right here in Washington state. One of the few places Obamacare was supposedly working.
“Obamacare Under Fire: EXCLUSIVE,” blared CNN last Monday morning. A reporter did a live stand-up in front of the White House.
“Single Mom Touted by President Loses Insurance,” read the crawl.
The story, which you have probably heard by now, involved a Federal Way woman, Jessica Sanford. She and her teenage son had been hailed last month by President Obama as an Affordable Care Act “success story” because they were going to get insurance for the first time in 15 years.
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“Now finally we get to have coverage because of the ACA for $169 a month,” she wrote to Obama. “I was crying the other day when I signed up. So much stress lifted.”
Except later, the state said it had goofed and calculated her income wrong. No big subsidy after all (she makes $49,000 a year). She then wrote on Facebook that she was “screwed” and “priced out” of the market and — faster than you can say “Fox News” — her story of Obamacare love gone sour was rocketed around the world.
“A health care success story that isn’t,” said Politico.
“Another Lie: The Story of Jessica Sanford,” said Rush Limbaugh, with his usual nuance.
Piled on Dori Monson, a host at Seattle’s KIRO-FM: “The meltdown continues for the debacle that is Obamacare.”
Except there’s a key detail none of these media outlets mentioned.
Which is: Sanford’s son was discovered to qualify for Medicaid coverage at a cost of just $30 a month. He has ADHD and, according to Sanford, it costs them $250 a month for prescription drugs alone. Which will now all be covered.
It’s true the rest of her insurance won’t get a big discount, as she had first thought.
“That mistake is totally on us,” said Bethany Frey of the Washington state health exchange.
But a bronze-level policy for a 48-year-old woman making $49,000 can be had on the state exchange for $237 a month, and a silver-level policy for $313.
So here’s a family that was totally uninsured for 15 years because it had always cost at least $500 to $600 a month for skimpy policies to cover them both. And what they can get now is full coverage for $30 a month for the son and scantier coverage in the $250 to $300 a month range for the mom.
How is that a horror story? Yet it prompted a live scandalcast in front of the White House by a national news network — which didn’t know, or maybe didn’t want to say, that due to the state health exchange the son now is getting essentially free health care.
Sanford says it’s still too steep for her to pay, so she’s upset, and that’s her call. But I just filled out my annual enrollment here at work, and my insurance, for a family of four, is $1,377 a month (of which the Times thankfully pays 70 percent). Health insurance is grotesquely expensive, and has been for years. The point is: If you can get it for $300 or so a month for two people — especially with a pre-existing condition — that’s no debacle, folks. It’s a deal.
Obamacare does have some real problems that rate national news coverage. Beyond the incompetent rollout, the biggest is that there are no cheaper plans for people who don’t want rich coverage. Later, these “rate shock” issues are going to hit some businesses.
And then there’s the fact that some states have rejected the Medicaid expansion, setting up health-care deserts for poor people in those states.
Those problems are hard, but probably fixable — if there was any interest in fixing them. But talking about them admittedly makes for a very dull stand-up outside the White House.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org