Lots of folks remember the appalling breach of congressional comity and protocol when Republican Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during a joint address to Congress about health care reform in September, 2009. (In fact, Joe Wilson was the one who lied.)
Wilson came to mind the other day after I posted an account of my experiences — and eventual success — in obtaining health insurance through the Healthcare.gov (aka Obamacare) website.
In my story, I noted how the Affordable Care Act permitted me to buy a high-risk plan for people with pre-existing conditions to hold me over until the actual Obamacare exchanges kicked into gear on January 1, 2014. Before that, I had no insurance at all due to – get this – the fact that I have hay fever allergies and migraines. That was enough to disqualify me from ever getting health insurance again.
And finally, I recounted how with my new Obamacare exchange plan, my premiums were about to go down by 23% or a little over $100/month. A drop from about $479 a month to $371.
Then a curious thing happened.
Despite my including tons of detail, at least a few of the visiting trolls flat out accused me of lying.
Here’s your stinking proof
Not only was I accused of lying about my plan, premium, and benefits, one contended that my $371 premium absolutely had to include subsidies. It doesn’t.
Another claimed that I didn’t put premium comparison amounts anywhere in my post, so that somehow, again, proved that I was a liar.
So, here’s the proof of the premium and the fact that I’m not getting a subsidy (my application ID number has been removed to prevent further trollage). Note the $371 price tag, and the $0 in subsidies:
Not good enough? Okay, here’s my acceptance letter for my new ACA plan (address and marketplace ID removed, also cropped the info for where to mail or submit my payment):
To be honest, come April 15, 2015, if business isn’t as good as I hope it will be in 2014, I might even qualify for a tax credit. So I’d be saving even more than $100.
Get ready for some Healthcare.gov wonkishness
The accusations of outright falsehood and sockpuppetry took me aback. Not that I gave them any credence, but surprised (I know) that there are people out there so set in their beliefs, that they absolutely won’t consider new information. I know there have been studies on this, how too many partisans prefer to reinforce what they already believe, and simply are not open to information contradicting their pre-conceptions.
Information consumers tend to seek out information that confirms what they already know; when that information is readily available we are able to tell ourselves that we are right, over and over again, and each successive piece of information further solidifies our particular set of neural networks (this is why priming “Democrat” with “bad” will have different effects on different people).
We like being right, we don’t like being wrong; and this is true beyond our conscious evaluations of correct and incorrect. One study showed that levels of testosterone in male voters were affected by whether or not their candidate won. As the New York Times reported:
…the male McCain voters “felt significantly more controlled, submissive, unhappy and unpleasant.” The testosterone effect was “as if they directly engaged head-to-head in a contest for dominance” and lost, one researcher told a reporter when the study was published in 2009. The men who voted for Obama fared better. The researchers speculated that there might be an Obama baby boom.
Politics is more than an individual pursuit. With high stakes and clearly-defined opponents, we place a high premium on being on the winning team, both in arguments and in elections. By arming ourselves with “correct” information and rejecting “incorrect” information, our political attitudes are socialized, or solidified, over time.
I could understand such a doubting attitude if I were posting about generalities, opinions, or projections as to future events. And we had some healthy debate in the comments, including with and among AMERICAblog regulars who don’t always agree with me — which I’m totally cool about. A variety of viewpoints is why I keep coming back.
But I was providing numbers — hard data. I was telling people exactly how much money I was going to save, to the dollar – and they thought I’d just made it up out of thin air.
Now let’s look at some other “lying” states
So I thought to myself, ‘Okay, let’s go get some more hard numbers and proof.’ Just for the heck of it. Fortunately, one of the things I was able to do with my Healthcare.gov login was to go back and view all of the plans available to me — a 50 year old non-smoking woman, living in a middle county in New Mexico. (Not all exchanges allow a difference based on smoker or not, such as DC for example.)
I went back to the plan browsing area of Healthcare.gov and looked at some additional plans. Here’s the least expensive silver plan I was offered:
And here’s the least expensive Bronze-level plan, again using my own eligibility as a benchmark.
Pretty cheap, huh? (By the way, both of those plans are eligible for a tax free Healthcare Spending Account (HSA) to help offset the deductible.) I also checked what a Silver-level plan would cost with my new provider, Lovelace Health Plan, and it would’ve been around $325 a month. Platinum plans from the same provider ran from $419 to $505.
Now I do know that health insurance in my state and part of the country is less expensive than elsewhere, so I decided the next thing to do was to log out and just start seeing what kinds of numbers I could find for generic coverage in other states, using Healthcare.gov’s browsing function. I picked several at semi-random. (I mainly chose GOP-controlled states because they’re the ones that don’t have their own exchanges.)
So I went first to my old home state, Pennsylvania. Because I wasn’t really signed in, the summary information is far more bare-bones, but I could still get numbers using my own stats — self, 50 or older. (Over 50 years old significantly increases premium costs, by the way.)
Here are the first three plans listed under Silver in Pennsylvania:
Gold plans for me in Pennsylvania (Allegheny county) ranged from $288 to $400/month.
Well after that, it only made sense to go whole hog and start checking those other states. I’m not going to embed graphics for these because it would be far too many, so I’ll summarize the results (I lie!), and anybody with a lick of curiosity or doubt can go find them for themselves.
In each case I tried to pick the same county for each go.
Self only, 50 or older (Silver)
Arkansas = $367-$545
Florida = $490-$627
Montana = $358-$391
Ohio = $302-$447
South Carolina = $394-$443
North Dakota = $400-$439
Texas = $332-$443
Self and spouse (Silver)
Arkansas = $587-$623
Florida = $702-$898
Montana = $512-$560
Ohio = $432-$642
South Carolina = $536-$633
North Dakota = $572-$627
Texas = $476-$634
Self, spouse and kids (Silver)
Arkansas = $813-$991
Florida = $779-$934
Montana = $708-$774
Ohio = $599-$887
South Carolina = $780-$879
North Dakota = $792-$896
Texas = $659-$879
There are some fairly obvious outliers there. Florida insurance is quite expensive, for example. However, it’s worth noting I wasn’t asked any of the questions which could reduce overall premium amounts, other than age and that only when I picked just myself. As soon as I went for self+spouse or family coverage, there were no other questions besides location. The ‘family’ selection also did not ask how many kids.
With a subsidy, those premiums are even better
You might be thinking, ‘How’s a family of four in Little Rock, Arkansas (for example) going to come up with that kind of scratch for a family policy?’
That is just way too much, more than $800 a month for health insurance. Especially for a family of modest means.
I’m glad you asked, because I decided to make use of another tool: The Kaiser Family Foundation subsidy calculator. Going to the Census.gov website for Arkansas data, I determined that median family income is just over $40k/year. So I filled out the calculator for a family with two kids under 20, two adults age 30, living near Little Rock.
In case you can’t quite make out the numbers, it estimates a Silver level plan’s premium would cost about $10,177 a year, or $848/month — which is right in line with Healthcare.gov’s numbers ($813-991/mo). Because the family is at 170% of the Federal poverty level, they’re eligible for $8,212 a year in subsidy help, leaving them on the hook for just $1,965 a year, or $163 a month.
Let me repeat that: A Little Rock, Arkansas family of four earning that state’s median income of $40,000 a year could get a Silver level health insurance plan for $163 a month.
And as if that isn’t enough, the coverage calculator says there’s a chance that family’s two kids would be eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid. (Full Medicaid coverage in Arkansas would kick in at an income of $32,400 or lower, since they’re one of the Medicaid expansion states.)
Actually, you lie
It seems to me we’re dealing with two problems here: One is people utterly unwilling to accept facts and hard data. And possibly also those who’ve decided they already know what the facts are, and are either unwilling or unable to find that information for themselves. (The latter half of that — unable to find — is entirely on HHS, and the urgent need to make the Healthcare.gov website fully operational ASAP. And, as John has noted, the actual prices and policies need to be easily accessible to everyone – no passwords, no accounts, just let people browse plans effortlessly.)
I would suggest for those who are at all persuadable or on the fence, especially if Healthcare.gov is still difficult to manage, go check out that Kaiser premium subsidy calculator. If nothing else, and particularly for people of modest means, it might allay some unnecessary fears. And at least peak their curiosity to go explore the actual plans and actual prices before just writing the entire thing off.
And it might just help us all identify who the real liars actually are.