Part 3—Bette (Grenier) in Spokane: In last Friday’s column, he did it again! Paul Krugman listed a bunch of the factual cons which have been pimped to the nation.
There will always be misinformation, of course. But at one point, Krugman named a big name:
KRUGMAN (2/7/14): The budget office has now increased its estimate of the size of these effects. It believes that health reform will reduce the number of hours worked in the economy by between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, which it unhelpfully noted “represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million.”Cantor’s a very major figure; he’s the House majority leader. “Not a word of his claim was true,” Krugman said in his column.
Why was this unhelpful? Because politicians and, I’m sorry to say, all too many news organizations immediately seized on the 2 million number and utterly misrepresented its meaning. For example, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, quickly posted this on his Twitter account: “Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.”
Not a word of this claim was true.
Krugman went on to list other false claims about the Affordable Care Act. To review his list of false claims, see yesterday’s post.
As we read Krugman’s column, we wondered if Cantor’s misstatement had been examined by Krugman’s newspaper as part of its news reporting.
“Why must we turn to opinion columns to learn basic facts?” That’s what one of the analysts said.
To what extent did the New York Times report on the claim Cantor made? Before we attempt to answer your question, let’s recall what Krugman had discussed in his previous column.
On February 3, Krugman discussed another high-profile false claim. This misrepresentation was rendered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the Republican leadership.
Most significantly, it was made in a very high-profile setting—as part of the GOP’s official response to the State of the Union Address.
What did McMorris Rodgers say? Here’s the way Krugman started:
KRUGMAN (2/3/14): The Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican representative from Washington—and it was remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen.Ouch! According to Krugman, McMorris Rodgers had deceived voters with her story about Bette in Spokane. She had done this as part of her party’s official response to the State of the Union.
The closest she came to substance was when she described a constituent, “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly faced a $700-a-month premium hike after her policy was canceled. “This law is not working,” intoned Ms. McMorris Rodgers. And right there we see a perfect illustration of just how Republicans are trying to deceive voters—and are, in the process, deceiving themselves.
What did McMorris Rodgers say that was wrong? Eventually, Krugman explained:
KRUGMAN: Which brings me back to Bette in Spokane.“Bette in Spokane” turned out to be a woman named Bette Grenier. In what follows, the greater fault lies with McMorris Rodgers, not with Grenier.
Bette’s tale had policy wonks scratching their heads; it was hard to see, given what we know about premiums and how the health law works, how anyone could face that large a rate increase. Sure enough, when a local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, contacted Bette Grenier, it discovered that the real story was very different from the image Ms. McMorris Rodgers conveyed. First of all, she was comparing her previous policy with one of the pricier alternatives her insurance company was offering—and she refused to look for cheaper alternatives on the Washington insurance exchange, declaring, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website.”
Even more important, all Ms. Grenier and her husband had before was a minimalist insurance plan, with a $10,000 deductible, offering very little financial protection. So yes, the new law requires that they spend more, but they would get far better coverage in return.
So was this the best story Ms. McMorris Rodgers could come up with? The answer, probably, is yes, since just about every tale of health reform horror the G.O.P. has tried to peddle has similarly fallen apart once the details were revealed. The truth is that the campaign against Obamacare relies on misleading stories at best, and often on outright deceit.
Why had Bette Grenier faced such a large price jump? In part, because she refused to sign up for the lower rates available under Obamacare!
It’s true—if you refuse to pay a lower rate, you’ll find yourself faced with a higher rate. That said, Grenier faced higher rates for another reason—her previous coverage was limited. Under the rules of Obamacare, she would be required to obtain fuller coverage.
To what extent did McMorris Rodgers mislead the public in her official response? On line, Krugman linked to the report in the Spokesman-Review which fact-checked McMorris Rodgers’ story. We think it’s worth taking a closer look at what that analysis stated.
The report was written by David Wasson. This is what he reported:
WASSON (1/30/14): The woman described only as “Bette in Spokane” during a nationally televised address by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Wednesday she had no idea her frustrations over increasing insurance premiums would become part of the Republican attack on health care reform.Wasson reports that Grenier had been paying $552 per month for her previous policy. If we assume his numbers are correct, Grenier would have had to pay about $400 more per month, as opposed to the $700 McMorris Rodgers bruited to the nation.
Not that Bette Grenier, a critic of the Affordable Care Act, minds that much.
But the “nearly $700 per month” increase in her premium that McMorris Rodgers cited in Tuesday night’s GOP response to the State of the Union address was based on one of the pricier options, a $1,200-a-month replacement plan that was pitched by Asuris Northwest to Grenier and her husband, Don.
The carrier also offered a less expensive, $1,052-per-month option in lieu of their soon-to-be-discontinued catastrophic coverage plan. And, Grenier acknowledged the couple probably could have shaved another $100 a month off the replacement policy costs by purchasing them from the state’s online portal, the Health Plan Finder website, but they chose to avoid the government health exchanges.
“I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all,” said Grenier, 58, who lives in the Chattaroy area and owns a roofing company with her husband. “We liked our old plan. It worked for us, but they can’t offer it anymore.”
The description of Grenier’s plight, along with the fact that McMorris Rodgers used only the woman’s first name in the televised address, sparked speculation among liberal bloggers and others that the figures may not hold up to scrutiny.
In Olympia, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler didn’t dismiss the possibility but was skeptical that someone would have no choice but to pay $700 per month more for a policy that meets the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirements.
McMorris Rodgers made an inaccurate statement in a very major forum. Should the New York Times have reported that fact as part of its national news coverage?
Did the Times report this error? Or is it assumed that misstatements will be made, even in our most august forums?
Did the New York Times report this error? Or do we truly live in a time when pretty much anything goes?
Tomorrow: McMorris Rodgers, Cantor and us