NY Times' Calmes: GOP Preying on Poor West Virginians With Hostile Obama-Care 'Misconceptions'

April 27th, 2014 2:07 PM

New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes, a reliable defender of President Obama, placed the blame on the cynical GOP for depriving poor West Virginians of health care for electoral advantage, in Sunday's "Political Stigma Is Depressing Participation in Health Law." The text box read: "Misconceptions are common as attack ads fill airwaves in West Virginia."

Calmes pitted a cynical, misleading, partisan GOP against supposedly non-partisan health professionals.

Inside the sleek hillside headquarters of Valley Health Systems, built with a grant from the health care law, two employees played an advertisement they had helped produce to promote the law’s insurance coverage for young, working-class West Virginians.

The ads ran just over 100 times during the recent six-month enrollment period. But three conservative groups ran 12 times as many, to oppose the law and the local Democratic congressman who voted for it.

This is a disparity with consequences. Health professionals, state officials, social workers, insurance agents and others trying to make the law work for uninsured Americans say the partisan divisions and attack ads have depressed participation in some places. They say the law has been stigmatized for many who could benefit from it, especially in conservative states like West Virginia that have the poorest, most medically underserved populations but where President Obama and his signature initiative are hugely unpopular.

Calmes painted cynical Republicans as misleading poor ignorant West Virginians and robbing them of health care.

Republican candidates and the so-called super PACs supporting them have made assailing the Affordable Care Act their No. 1 issue for the midterm elections, and they are focusing their attacks in states with the most competitive Senate and House campaigns. In few places is that as evident as here in southern West Virginia, where Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a 19-term Democrat, is threatened as never before.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen once they pull out all the stops to trash Obamacare,” [Valley Health CEO] Shattls said. “We’re nonpartisan here. We’re just doing what we’re funded to do, and that is to provide access” to health care.

While the "dysfunctional" Obama-care website gets a single mention, Calmes's clear argument, based on anecdotes, is that Obama-care would be catching on in West Virginia if not for those darn Republicans spreading partisan paranoia.

While the evidence that such ads, and the partisan climate generally, have hindered sign-ups consists mainly of anecdotes, nearly everyone interviewed in West Virginia volunteered some.

The controversy about Obamacare does seem to have interfered with people’s ability to sort out the value of the marketplace for getting health insurance for themselves,” said Dr. James B. Becker, associate professor of the Marshall University School of Medicine and medical director of the state’s Medicaid program.

Other problems stymied the introduction of the law, notably the initially dysfunctional federal website. But the political polarization “complicates our efforts to enroll people and to educate people about the Affordable Care Act, there’s no question,” said Perry Bryant, head of the advocacy group West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, based in Charleston, the capital.

“Literally, people thought there would be chips embedded in their bodies if they signed up for Obamacare,” Mr. Bryant said.


Stoking such sentiments in order to rouse conservatives to vote is central to Republicans’ hopes of not only keeping their House majority but perhaps recapturing the Senate. They are counting on West Virginia to help.


Many professionals here dispute such claims. “It’s working, and you can show it’s working,” Dr. Becker said.

He and other health care advocates call West Virginia a national success story in terms of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to more of the working poor....

Calmes finally made an off-hand mention of another reason, the subject of a Times's April 22 front-page story: "Looking at Costs and Risks, Many Skip Health Insurance," which cited the paper's own poll showing that cost of care was the main factor in skipping the torturous Obama-care bureaucracy, not fanatical hatred for Obama. But Calmes soon pivoted back to the liberal tale that anti-Obama hostility is behind the reluctance to sign up.

Many of the uninsured were also deterred from participating by cultural factors: unfamiliarity with insurance, computer illiteracy, Appalachian isolation and,most of all, cost. But also at play was hostility to Mr. Obama.