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Smart Bombs: Politics infect health policy

On Dec. 10, a picture was posted on U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Facebook page, along with text that reads, in part: “This is 53-year-old Debbie Brown from Garfield, Wa. She is the grandmother of two, works at the local gas station, and has lost her health insurance because of Obamacare.”

The Brown saga actually began in November, when the congresswoman referenced to her in a floor speech, saying she is “uninsured now.” You can also find the congresswoman on YouTube making the same claim.

A lot of politicians are slinging anecdotes like this, but many don’t make sense.

The New York Post wrote an article about a New York father who couldn’t get one of his children covered through the health care exchange. Fox News pounced. House Speaker John Boehner used it as evidence that Obamacare is a “train wreck.”

But it’s the truth that’s getting derailed. As it turns out, the father wanted to sign up four children but listed only three on his application. Scandal over.

Furthermore, Obamacare had nothing to do with Debbie Brown’s policy getting canceled, according to her insurer. Plus, it was a supplemental Medicare Advantage policy. Brown, who is disabled, is covered under Medicare.

So, not Obamacare’s fault; not uninsured.

A Dec. 13 article in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News first cast doubt on McMorris Rodgers’ claim, noting: “… Brown’s loss of coverage, according to her HUB International insurance agent, Ryan Focht, can’t be directly attributed to the Affordable Care Act.” He said Asuris Northwest Health pulled out of the Whitman County market, and that this was the fourth consecutive year Brown’s supplemental coverage had been canceled.

I asked McMorris Rodgers spokeswoman Melanie Collett about the article, and she said her office stood by the claims, but she couldn’t go into details or provide documentation due to privacy concerns.

I sent an email inquiry to Asuris Northwest Health about that Medicare Advantage plan, and spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham confirmed what the insurance agent told the Daily News. “What we can tell you is that this particular change was not related to the ACA.  It was made after careful evaluation and consideration of the current market environment.”

So it was a business decision, not unlike countless ones made before the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies routinely alter or discontinue policies, and they drop in and out of markets.

It’s easy to claim “due to Obamacare,” but it’s not necessarily the truth.

Blame buried. On Dec. 10, Boundary County sent out a news release that began this way: “Due to increased expenses of the Federally Mandated Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama Care, Boundary County is forced to reduce the hours of operation at our monitored solid waste disposal/collection sites.”

After much head-scratching, I asked Michael Meier, the county’s public information officer, for an explanation. He replied that in anticipation of the 2015 mandate that employers offer health care coverage to full-time employees, the county cut some workers’ hours. Under the ACA, full time is 30 hours per week minimum. To make sure that some employees working 30 hours or more were “not subject to health care benefits,” the county reduced their hours to 28, which means some landfills must close earlier.

Here’s another way to phrase the news release: “Due to our determination to keep some workers uninsured, we’ve chosen to make it more inconvenient to dump the trash.”

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.


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