Americans for Prosperity — a conservative group funded by the Koch brothers — is spending millions on ads that aim to turn Americans against the Affordable Care Act, just as government officials prepare to enroll the uninsured in the law’s new health care exchanges beginning on October 1. The campaign will eschew attacks on President Obama in favor of a new non-ideological tone that could appeal “young women” who watch the Food Network, “Law & Order,” and “Good Morning America.”
The goal is to “start softening the ground” ahead of implementation, Tim Phillips, the group’s president told the New York Times. “Too often we fell into a broad-based ideological argument, and I think we failed to get at ‘Look at what they’re doing and how it impacts you,’ ” he said. “I think where we win is on the impact of a specific policy.”
But if the group’s first TV ad, titled “Questions,” is any indication the new spots are no more honest than the partisan advertisements from 2012. The commercial opens with “Julie,” a mother of two, who tells the camera that she “has some questions about Obamacare,” but is then quick to offer false answers about the effects of reform:
JULIE: If we can’t pick our own doctor, how do I know our family is going to get the care they need? And what am I getting in exchange for higher premiums and a smaller paycheck? Can I really try the folks in Washington with my family’s health care? I think we all deserve some answers.
Nothing in the law prevents patients from choosing their own doctors — uninsured patients who seek coverage through the exchanges will have access to the doctors who accept the private insurers that participate in the new marketplaces and individuals and families with employer-based coverage probably won’t see any changes at all.
Asked to substantiate Julie’s claim, AFP spokesperson Levi Russell pointed to a Wall Street Journal article from March of 2013, which actually seems to undermine the ad’s argument.
The article notes that insurers participating in health care exchanges are trying to control health care costs by negotiating contracts with smaller networks of providers, which insurers already do today by offering beneficiaries networks of providers and charging higher fees if they receive care out of network. Under these new contracts, “Hospitals will be paid less by the insurer, but will likely get more patients because those people will have fewer choices,” the paper writes. The goal, for the insurer, is to increase transparency and value and please the consumer. Industry surveys show that premiums are “the most important factor in consumers’ choices” and that more than half of those surveyed would opt for “a narrow-network product if it cost them at least 10% less than an equivalent with broader choice.”
The Congressional Budget Office also estimates that 19 million people — the majority of enrollees — will eventually receive subsidies to purchase comprehensive health care coverage from the exchanges, casting doubt on Julie’s claim that she will be paying “higher premiums.”
A website accompanying the ad campaign asks readers to input their age, gender, and location and warns of “risk factors” they “may face” under the law. “Many families could be punished for their personal health care choices due to ObamaCare,” it warns. “Cost-sharing? Deductibles? Premium Tax Credits? Sound complex? A 2,000 page bill with tens of thousands of pages of accompanying regulations is complex.”
Critics of the health law spent a whopping $400 million on television spots criticizing the law since 2010, over five times the $75 million that the law’s supporters have spent on ads promoting it. Analysts expect $1 billion in expenditures by 2015.