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Anatomy of Another ACA Lie

April 18, 2012

By John McDonough

(This post originally appeared on the blog Health Stew)

Lots of folks ask me why I think the Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare is so unpopular. I first assert that it’s not as unpopular as popularly characterized (see Kaiser Family Foundation monthly tracking polls) and then I refer to the deliberate and false claims about the law being widely circulated around the nation, particularly aimed at senior citizens. I wrote about one particular falsehood last month. Now, my newfound pals at the GE Retirees Association yesterday sent me another they have been receiving in their email inboxes:

Subject: Medicare Premiums —FYI
Look clearly at the 2014 rate compared to the 2013 rate.

For those of you who are on Medicare, read the following. It’s short, but important and you probably haven’t heard about it in the Mainstream News:

“The per person Medicare Insurance Premium will increase from the present Monthly Fee of $96.40, rising to:

$104.20 in 2012

$120.20 in 2013


$247.00 in 2014.”

These are Provisions incorporated in the Obamacare Legislation, purposely delayed so as not to confuse the 2012 Re-Election Campaigns. Send this to all Seniors that you know, so they will know who’s throwing them under the bus.

Peggy Riehle
Internal Representative
Network Contracting

Blue Cross Blue Shield.jpg

Could I verify or contradict the message, my GE Retiree friends wanted to know. Didn’t sound right to me, so I did some investigating. My contacts in the Obama Administration and the U.S. Senate said it’s a viral email lie that has been going around for more than one year now. Independently, did their own investigation last year of these claims, and here is their conclusion:

This widely circulating message is similar to a falsehood-filled screed that went around last year, urging “retribution” against members of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections. This message makes somewhat different accusations — also false — and urges voters to “remember” in November 2012. …

It claims that “those of you who are on Medicare” can thank “Obamacare” for increases in the per-person monthly Medicare premium — “to a wonderful $247.00 in 2014.” This is also false. The basic premium for Medicare Part B (which covers physician services) was indeed $96.40 in 2009. But the other numbers are all wrong. It was $110.50 last year, for example, and not $104.20 as claimed. And it is $115.40 this year, not $120.20 as claimed.

Actually, only 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are paying the basic rate. The rest — 73 percent — are paying less under a “hold harmless” provision triggered by the lack of a cost-of-living increase in Social Security this year or last year. Most are still paying $96.40.

As for the future, nobody can say with precision what the basic Part B premium will be next year or the year after, let alone in 2014. The premium is set each year at a level calculated to pay for 25 percent of the cost of the coverage. Medicare officials do keep close watch on the trends, however.

And when we contacted Medicare’s Office of the Actuary, we were given these projections — the most recent available — which are current as of the president’s budget for fiscal year 2012 issued in mid-February:

Medicare Part B Standard Premium (projected, February 2011)
2012 $108.20
2013 $112.10
2014 $117.10
Source: Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services

I was particularly intrigued because the vital email in question included the insignia of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. I called the number in question and it has been disconnected. I contacted the public affairs office of BCBS-Alabama and a lovely woman informed me that the individual in question received the viral email on her home computer, and then inappropriately re-distributed it via her work email with the identifying information. The public affairs office emphasizes the BCBS-Alabama “does not endorse” the message at all, is instituting new rules of conduct for all employees based on this incident and will be holding training sessions for all their associates on the new code in June.  They have been overwhelmed with inquiries regarding the viral message and sincerely wish it would all go away.

The lie, meanwhile, has taken on a life of its own and will not die anytime soon.

And people continue to wonder, why is the ACA so unpopular?

John E. McDonough is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011, and was a senior adviser on national health reform to the US Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), where he worked on passage of the Affordable Care Act.

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  1. Thanks to where we live (Cherokee County, GA) , my wife and I receive anti-Obama viral hit pieces with regularity in our personal email account. I used to get upset and still sometimes try to correct them, but it’s like swatting flies at a picnic. They just keep coming. I have concluded that there is a credulous subset of the population for whom curiosity and research has never been and will never be part of their make-up. It’s very sad. I wish I had a constructive alternative, but the challenge is harder than teaching another language.

    Incidentally, any time I come across any reference to BCBS my visceral reaction is perhaps unfair, but instantly negative. To me that is the grand-daddy of so-called non-profits. After following the health care debate for the last several years I have concluded that the so-called “not for profit” outfits (typically large local or regional icons, often church sponsored) may be the go-to place for health care wherever they are, but they are at the same time typically surrounded by a rash of profit-making operations — from individual practices to clinics to really big specialty centers (heart, ortho, cancer, etc) for which the iconic non-profit is mainly a market attraction and money laundering operation.

    Health care should not be a market commodity.

  2. Jim Matthews permalink

    I think we should all push for Peggy Riehle to get fired. People need to take responsibility for their actions. She willfully passed on information that was untrue and not checked out. In addition she added the logo of BCBS which contributes to some sort of authenticity to the viral lie. It makes me sick!

    • Frank M. Lowrey permalink

      As a BCBS policy holder, I am particularly upset by this dumb stunt by Peggy Riehle. Unfortunately, she is typical of a substantial segment of the population which is more than anxious to pass on allegations that suit their biases with no regard for accuracy. Ms Riehle certainly should be severely disciplined if not dismissed.

  3. Just received this email in our in box from our anti-Obama “acquaintances”! Sad, but this can be expected behavior for many here in Ted Nugent Country.

  4. Susan permalink

    I received that email from a friend, and promptly found the facts (not that hard to find, btw) and sent back the links to proper sources, including the actuarial tables from the 2012 report which show the projected premiums. I also found links to Fox News and Fox Business which substantiated the truth, and included those, since I figured he would give those more weight than my other (more direct) sources.

    Another cousin of mine sends these emails to about 20 family members. I was surprised that I hadn’t received this from her yet, so as a preemptive strike I sent the rebuttal email to our family email list. Other family members have already sent private “thank you” messages, so I think I shall start to rebut this garbage whenever I receive it. In the past, I’d just delete the message and not respond (partially because of lack of time, and not wanting to piss off my elders), but by not responding it appears that I am agreeing.

    Does anyone think that Ms. Peggy Riehle will send a retraction to her email contacts, and if she does, do you think they will send the retraction to their lists? HA!

  5. We should be armpit deep in UTOPIA by now following all the directives of the elitists. Ridiculous programs and laws are passed in the dark of night and through the media as “good for you and your safety” America has been gutted.
    Fact is our cities; schools and society are bankrupt lethal toilets. The intensive caring for illegal Aliens and Israel has no limits as American seniors, citizens and veterans are thrown overboard.

    A day of reckoning is sorely needed.

    The Tree of Liberty Calls. Bless anyone who will act against this tyrannical government.

    • Mr. Miller,
      Thanks for your thoughtful, specific, and well-argued response to the topic at hand, which is simply dishonest e-mails. I appreciate your wasting everyone’s time with your no-doubt divinely inspired truths. Perhaps next time you might try backing up your assertions with some data, such as on the illegal aliens supposedly covered under the ACA – that is, if it’s not too much trouble.

  6. Barry permalink

    Obama should be defending his own legislation and getting the true facts out. It would make his opponents look foolish. I always wonder what the people who blindly forward these emails think about the people who have forwarded the email to them. My goal for the last year is to call out these falsehoods and amazingly my emails have decreased.

  7. Deep South Dem permalink

    Now this claim is making the Facebook rounds in the form of a photo being distributed by a group called “The Republican Revolution”. The photo is then shared and shared and shared and shared. It is a photo of the email which includes Ms Riehle’s name, title and the BCBS Alabama logo.

    What makes me shake my head is that, somewhere there are sensible republicans who KNOW this is just another false claim but they do nothing to stop it because they are COUNTING ON the ignorance of their base to believe and share this nonsense, even if, no, ESPECIALLY if, it goes against their own best interest. I guarantee you someone could call Rush tomorrow and even though Rush would know this is BS he would allow the caller to go on the air and read this email and Rush would just say “interesting. I had not heard that….folks, I’m telling you blah blah blah commercial break”. The Republican party is the MASTER of spreading misinformation and the Dems are HORRIBLE at setting the record straight. The Republicans are so good they even came up with Fox News and declared every other news source “liberal media” who could not be believed. Like the commenter above, if you don’t have a link from Fox News then your source is immediately dismissed as “biased mainstream liberal media” who just make up lies to make the president look good. LOL THAT is what is wrong with this country, Mr. Miller.

    Barry is right, the onus is on Obama to get the facts out. Even though he knows everything he says will be massaged and spun by Rush and FOX News. I will always respect Senator McCain for his truthfulness during the 08 campaign when a supported called Obama an “arab”. McCain immediately corrected her saying “No, no ma’am, he’s a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is about.” And THAT is why the extreme right loonies dislike McCain to this day!

  8. Jim Bill permalink

    Something is wrong here. My wife and I were paying 96.40 untill 2009 when it was raised to 134.70 and back to 96.40 in 2010. Then in 2012 we are both paying 99.90 and have been told by our inrolled agent that we will pay 247.00 each in 2013. Go figure

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