Debunking the Propaganda Campaign to Kill Obamacare

Opponents will not get the last word. Real people will.

Photo Credit: Photo by Shutterstock

Forget the sexist Koch brothers-funded ad of a creepy-looking Uncle Sam about to conduct a pelvic exam as a way to convince college students not to sign up for Obamacare. A recent article in Forbes trumpeting a study by the right-wing Manhattan Institute claiming that Obamacare will be more costly than current health insurance plans is a more intentionally misleading attack on Obamacare.

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The article’s big lie is a sin of intentional journalistic omission. Obamacare hopes to extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans. But more than 25 million people will not pay the full premium price. That’s because the government will pay insurance companies as much as two-thirds of the policy’s cost via federal subsidies. For 2014, $16 billion has been set aside for those discounts, to be doled out based on incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

In 2013, that includes individuals making $11,490 to $46,000, couples earning between $19,530 and $78,120, and families of four making $23,550 to $94,200.

How does Forbes handle omitting that not-so-minor detail? Its article states, “Subsidies only protect some people. Middle-class Americans face the double-whammy of higher insurance premiums, and higher taxes to pay for other people’s subsidies.”

The “some” in that sentence are 78 percent of Obamacare’s likely recipients, or 25.7 million people, a study by the advocacy group Families USA found.

This is how propaganda works. You don’t state all the facts. You select bits and build an argument. Forbes’ editors should know better—especially since the publication that bills itself as a capitalist’s tool is whacking a law with gigantic profits for its insurance industry friends.   

On Thursday, reported that anti-Obamacare forces have so far outspent the pro-Obamacare side five-to-one, with its advertising approaching $500 million. But the tide may be turning in the Obamacare propaganda war. Bloomberg’s source, Kantar Media, which tracks ad buys and trends, said the pro-Obamacare side would spend $500 million as the law is rolled out this fall and next year. That’s part of the $3.7 billion given to states to create and promote their program. And that does not count free media coverage, such as the president’s recent healthcare speeches.  

Until now, the national media has not reported on the subsidies. But that is also changing. Take this Washington Post report profiling “how eight lives would be affected by the health law.” Not everyone who wants Obamacare can get it, the Post’s first example revealed. That’s because the Supreme Court ruled states do not have to enroll people earning wages under the federal poverty level in state-run Medicaid programs. Republican-run Virginia is one of the states deciding not to help its poor people get health plans. Republican majorities in red states will prevent 8 million poor from getting help, the Post said, citing an Urban Institute study.  

But other individuals profiled by the Post show how the subsidies work. A single musician making $25,000 a year looking at the cheapest plan, costing $136 a month, will get a $54 federal subsidy. That brings its cost to $82 a month. The man profiled has Crohns disease, a serious intestinal disability, and told the Post he would welcome coverage. A middle-aged single mother of three, who has a heart condition, could get a $350 monthly subsidy for a family plan based on a $30,000 income, the Post said. Obamacare offers four levels of coverage. The most barebones and cheapest plan would cost her nothing. A slightly better plan, lowering her deductible, would cost her $104 a month.

The Post reported that people like these are taking a hard look at Obamacare. Some are worried they won’t be able to keep current doctors, which always is an issue when one changes health plans. But real-life stories like theirs are more compelling than partisan fights, and they are about to become a much bigger part of the media wars.

That doesn't mean anti-Obamcare propaganda is going away. reports that groups funded by the Koch brothers will launch several ad barrages. In politics, the side that punches first usually can create first impressions and frame the debate. But they don’t always win, especially if the voices and emotions from real people and their real-life needs are heard.

That shift is already starting. You see signs of it in the GOP’s resignation that they can’t stop or defund Obamacare amid Congress’ current budget gyrations. Bloomberg’s latest poll found that half of Americans want the GOP to stop trying to kill the law and fix what’s broken. Even theWall Street Journal’s editorial page is retreating to old bromides, saying the U.S. doesn’t need safety nets now and didn’t need them in the 1960s when Medicare and Medicaid were created.

It may be late in coming, but pro-Obamacare advertising and organizing is getting started. The creeepy Koch-funded Uncle Sam gynecologist ad already has been spoofed online. The Post’s coverage of Obamacare’s subsidies makes Forbes’ article—with a quarter-million page views as of Thursday—look pretty bad. And the Democratic Party is sending out e-mails touting Obamacare’s virtues, starting with getting self-employed people with policies to switch over.

“Nearly half of Americans who have individual insurance plans will receive assistance averaging $2,672 to purchase plans on the Obamacare marketplace,” an e-mail from read. Of course, it added, “And Republicans voted more than 40 times to take it away.”

You can bet the figure that will stay in recipients’ minds is the prospect of $2,672 in savings, compared to current costs. Most people will ignore the anti-Obamacare noise and see just what they can get for $222 less a month.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).