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
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2317 GMT (0717 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT