Grossly Misleading? Obama vs. the media on health care

President Obama was taking a whack at critics of his health care law, and that may include the media coverage of all the people getting kicked off their insurance plans.

In arguing that only a “fraction” of Americans will pay more for new plans and that they are being booted from substandard policies, the president said: “If you leave that stuff out, you’re being grossly misleading, to say the least.”

Does he have a point?

Let’s start by saying it was the president who was being misleading with his repeated vow that if you like your plan and like your doctor, you can keep them. It’s clear now that the administration knew he could never have kept that promise, which earned him four Pinocchios from the Washington Post.

It’s fine for the president to argue that those bumped out of their current coverage should “shop around in the new marketplace,” but that’s not how the law was sold in 2010.

Still, this stuff is complicated—as anyone who deals with insurance companies knows—and the coverage often seems to me to be incomplete.

Television in particular loves to take one victim—of budget cutbacks, government shutdowns, or in this case ObamaCare—and make him or her the symbol of the story. It humanizes the narrative, provides a much-needed visual, and it’s easy—at least, far easier than reciting a bunch of dry statistics.

Thus it was that CBS’s Jan Crawford introduced her audience to “56-year-old Dianne Barrette. Last month she received a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield informing her, as of January 2014, she would lose her current plan. Barrette pays fifty-four dollars a month. The new plan she`s being offered would run five hundred and ninety-one dollars a month, ten times more than what she currently pays.”

Said Barrett: “What I have right now is what I`m happy with. And I just want to know why I can't keep what I have. Why do I have to be forced into something else?”

But there was more to the story, as Mediaite and others later reported. Turns out Barrett’s plan was a piece of junk that didn’t even cover hospitalization costs, and provided $50 toward doctor visits. She also appears eligible for plans whose premiums are nowhere near a tenfold increase.

“I’m a little confused about it,” Barrett told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren.

You can certainly argue that it should be Barrett’s choice, not the government’s, whether to stick with her bare-bones plan. But there was more to the story

Another victim, Deborah Cavallaro, told CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo: “Please explain to me how my plan is a 'substandard' plan when ... I'd be paying more for the exchange plans than I am currently paying by a wide margin.”

L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik did some followup reporting:

“Her current plan, from Anthem Blue Cross, is a catastrophic coverage plan for which she pays $293 a month as an individual policyholder. It requires her to pay a deductible of $5,000 a year and limits her out-of-pocket costs to $8,500 a year. Her plan also limits her to two doctor visits a year, for which she shoulders a copay of $40 each. After that, she pays the whole cost of subsequent visits.

“At her age, she's eligible for a good ‘silver’ plan for $333 a month after the subsidy -- $40 a month more than she's paying now. But the plan is much better than her current plan -- the deductible is $2,000, not $5,000. The maximum out-of-pocket expense is $6,350, not $8,500. Her co-pays would be $45 for a primary care visit and $65 for a specialty visit -- but all visits would be covered, not just two.

“Is that better than her current plan? Yes, by a mile. If she wanted to pay less, Cavallaro could opt for lesser coverage in a ‘bronze’ plan. She could buy one from the California exchange for as little as $194 a month.”

These are important questions that go to the heart of the ObamaCare debate. The media should hold the president accountable for his misleading promise, but they also need to avoid misleading symbolism.

The Plot to Dump Biden

You’d think there were no revelations left from the 2012 campaign, but Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, the “Game Change” duo, strike again in their new book:

“The idea of replacing Mr. Biden with Mrs. Clinton had long been rumored, but the journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, in their new book, ‘Double Down,’ provide a detailed description of the effort inside the senior circle of Obama advisers. It was pushed by the chief of staff at the time, William M. Daley, despite the close personal rapport Mr. Daley had developed with Mr. Biden, a fellow Irish Catholic and veteran of Washington politics.

“‘When the research came back near the end of the year, it suggested that adding Clinton to the ticket wouldn’t materially improve Obama’s odds,’ the authors write in their sequel to ‘Game Change,’ which chronicled the 2008 campaign. ‘Biden had dodged a bullet he never saw coming — and never would know anything about, if the Obamans could keep a secret.’

“In a phone interview on Thursday, Mr. Daley acknowledged that he wanted to research what the move would mean for Mr. Obama, whose popularity, in the fall of 2011, was at its lowest in his presidency to date. He called it simply ‘due diligence.’ ‘I was vocal about looking into a whole bunch of things, and this was one of them,’ he said. ‘You have to remember, at that point the president was in awful shape, so we were like, ‘Holy Christ, what do we do?′ ”

Holy Christ is right. But I suspect campaign officials were right that it wouldn’t have been a game changer.

Greenwald’s Next Act

Glenn Greenwald bids farewell to the Guardian, defends his NSA reporting and says his new site, financed by the founder of eBay, will be up “reasonably soon.”

Halloween Edition

If you haven’t seen Matt Lauer dressed up as Pamela Anderson, you don’t know what you’re missing.

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