[dropcap]L[/dropcap]UCKY swing-state Coloradans have been bestowed with two more political ads today, this time courtesy of Americans for Prosperity, the political rough-and-tumble organization funded by the oil-billionaire Koch brothers. The group’s latest ads focus on Obamacare in leveling attacks at Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Udall and three Democrats running for the state Senate.
Politico reported this morning that “someone familiar with the buy” said the ads are being pushed through “six-figures” worth of airtime. The Udall campaign said the figure was close to a million dollars.
“What’s happening to your health care?” the ad against Udall asks. “Not what we were promised. The Affordable Care Act has become unaffordable. Our health care costs are still going up.”
The words in the ad are chosen carefully. Health care costs had been on the rise for decades, which was the main motivation driving health care wonks on the right and left to design the policies that became the Affordable Care Act. In fact, costs have leveled off recently. FactCheck.org in February summarized the debate over why the costs are leveling and said it was just too early to tell how the Affordable Care Act will affect costs in the future.
What is not in dispute, however, despite conservative talking points to the contrary, is that the U.S. health care system has been the worst among all of those on offer in peer countries such as France, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. Costs in the U.S. are high, outcomes are poor, efficiencies lag, preventive care and support for healthy living are lacking, infant mortality is higher than it is in any of the developed nations and inequities yawn between the quality of care provided to the rich and to the rest of us.
The AFP ad says nothing about any of that, nor about the fact that, in Colorado, one of the main problems driving costs and human suffering is being addressed: 17 percent of the Colorado population lacked health insurance in 2013. Those Coloradans weren’t getting the kind of regular checkups and prescriptions that head off serious illness and injury and they were going to emergency rooms when they needed care, wracking up huge bills that drove up insurance premiums and care costs for everyone. Now, however, the percentage of uninsured residents of Colorado has dropped to 11 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the state population last year at 5,268,367. That means roughly 316,102 Coloradans who were not insured last year are insured this year.
AFP zeros in on Udall over the issue of policy cancellations.
“335,000 Coloradans received a cancellation notice,” says the narrator. “What did Mark Udall do? He tried to hide it. Udall pressured state officials to report fewer policy cancellations to make Obamacare look better.”
That’s half the story. Note that the ad never says 335,000 Coloradans were left without insurance. The fact is, their insurers notified those people that the policies they held didn’t include the popular consumer-protection provisions required by the law, meaning the policies didn’t offer coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example.
In addition, the “cancellation notices” were simultaneously “renewal notices.” Policy holders were given the option to take one of many alternative renewal policies with their same insurance company or to shop among competing plans offered by other private companies on the exchange.
Udall thought those points were being lost and his staff asked the state Department of Insurance to put the cancellations in a broader context. Republicans viewed the request as improper pressure and intimidation. Republican members of the statehouse and Congressman Cory Gardner, who is now running against Udall for the Senate, asked Insurance Department officials for details of the exchanges with Udall staffers. Department officials responded by saying politics were overtaking the facts.
“A fact-finding review revealed no evidence of any intimidation and the ‘level of coercion by Senator Udall and/or his staff’ was zero,” wrote Barbara Kelley, director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies in response to a letter of inquiry sent by statehouse Republican Rep. Amy Stephens. “There is no information to support an allegation of real (or perceived) intimidation, or inappropriate or undue pressure. There was a disagreement among staff about how to characterize the data. However, the situation was neither received, nor acted upon as coercive or intimidating.”
Responding to a letter of inquiry from Gardner, state Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar also dismissed the notion that Udall’s office was acting unethically.
“Senator Udall’s staff was doing their own research separate and apart from the Division,” she wrote. “[His office] brought certain information to our attention, including the fact that [insurers] were sending notices that included renewal options. Moreover, we think the Senator’s efforts were useful.”
The other anti-Obamacare ad released by AFP today targets three Democratic state senators from swing Jefferson County — Cheri Jahn, Andy Kerr and Jeanne Nicholson. Democrats enjoy a mere one-seat majority in the Senate and Republicans are gunning to flip the balance.
The ad says the lawmakers “made Obamacare worse” in Colorado by approving the establishment of the Connect for Health state insurance exchange marketplace.
Connect for Health was established through bipartisan legislation and its supporters can point to the fact that many observers now agree that establishing a state exchange was the right way to go.
According to a recent Gallup poll, Colorado ranks fifth among the states for the greatest reduction in the rate of residents lacking health coverage.
What’s more, states like Kansas run by Republican majorities that resisted Obamacare mainly by refusing to establish a state-based exchange, have seen rates of the uninsured only slowly dip or continue to climb. Where the number of uninsured Colorado residents has dropped by 6.0 percent, the number of uninsured in Kansas, according to Gallup, has risen by 5.1 percent.