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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

McMorris Rodgers glosses over pesky facts

Everyone knew there would be a Bette from Spokane. If not a Bette, then a Bob or a Brenda or a Bubba or a Buck.

And everyone knew that Bette from Spokane would be drawn out by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, as she rebutted the State of the Union address, to illustrate a point. It is a fine and useful technique, in speechmaking and in journalism, to “put a face” on general issues. To find the illustrative case. The human example. An interesting question preceding McMorris Rodgers’ moment in the spotlight was: How would she bring Spokane – how would she bring us – into it?

In this case, she used Bette from Spokane in an attempt to illustrate the point that Obamacare is ruining people’s lives.

But what it really illustrated is McMorris Rodgers’ loose allegiance to facts when it comes to Obamacare. Not only did Bette from Spokane’s story of $700-a-month premium increases under Obamacare not hold up under even a sliver of scrutiny, McMorris Rodgers did not give it that sliver.

Bette from Spokane sent McMorris Rodgers a letter from her insurer, canceling her plan and offering replacement plans, Bette told the S-R. A staffer for the congresswoman called Bette of Spokane, and Bette of Spokane didn’t call him back. That seems to be the beginning and end of efforts to confirm the story.

It’s a level of substantiation that would not pass muster at the Kettle Falls Kindergarten Times, but it was good enough for McMorris Rodgers.

This comes, remember, from folks who are incensed by President Barack Obama’s lie about people being able to keep their own coverage and doctor. Obama’s dead-certain claims were a stupid, foreseeable blunder, and people were right to be outraged about it. Obama acknowledged that, if only after he had no choice.

I wrote about a woman last week whose family has left the insurance market for a Christian health care sharing ministry. She considered her family’s options exhaustively, examined the different plans and their costs, investigated how much of a tax credit her family would qualify for, and was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that in strictly financial terms, the so-called subsidy would give her family affordable options in the new market. But she opposes the subsidies, among other things, and so is making a different choice.

This is not the McMorris Rodgers way. As she moves to the front of the national stage, she would gain authority from treating facts with more respect. In her opposition to Obamacare, she has asked her constituents to tell her their stories – though she is clearly interested only in certain stories. Does anyone here in good old Spokane benefit from having insurance coverage for the first time? Are there any Bettes in Spokane with pre-existing conditions, whom insurance companies will no longer be able to cull with breathtaking cynicism?

If so, you won’t hear it from her. Last year, she claimed Obamacare had driven up premiums for Eastern Washington families in 2013 by $3,000. She went on CNN, where the figure grew to $7,500.

She cited a study that actually found premiums rose by … $629. Almost three-quarters of that was paid by employers, not workers.

Her office said she had misspoken. The misspeaking continues.

On Jan. 14, following the preliminary estimates that health care sector employment had declined by 0.04 percent in January – a figure subject to revision and well under the statistical margins of error – McMorris Rodgers educed the culprit with a Sherlock Holmes-like precision.

“(I)t’s another impact of the president’s health care law,” she said at a news conference., which flagged Obama’s flawed assertions as early as 2009, put this claim under the light. A Princeton economist called it “silly,” arguing that the figures were too preliminary and too tiny to make much of at this point, and noting that larger gains in health care employment came late last year and are expected next year. A Dartmouth economist said the short-term estimates hide a longer-term pattern in which health care spending – and therefore employment – was likely to continue rising, if more slowly, and that the ACA is expected to add to employment, not reduce it.

McMorris Rodgers’ office was unmoved. “In December, for the first time in 10 years, the health care sector lost jobs,” a spokesman retorted. “Also, in December, for the first time in history, our health care industry was beginning to feel the consequences of a government-centered approach to health care reform that is impacting access to care. Coincidence?”

The story of “Bette in Spokane,” as told by McMorris Rodgers, is this: Obamacare drove up her premiums by nearly $700 a month. Period.

The actual story of Bette from Spokane, as substantiated by the S-R’s David Wasson, is that she saw one of her pricier options go up by around $650, when her insurer canceled her current plan because it did not qualify under the new law. A less-expensive option offered by her insurer was around $450 more. She believes she could have brought that down more had she explored the Washington Health Plan Finder website, but as she said, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all.”

In other words, she doesn’t know.

When McMorris Rodgers had a chance to speak to America, she had a choice between stories. Between factual and fanciful. Between complicated and simplistic. Between truthful and useful.

She went with simplistic, fanciful and useful.


Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman. com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.