The Obamacare Horror Story

Friday, January 10, 2014


During the tumultuous roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, the media struggled to find stories of people who had successfully bought insurance through, and many landed on sources that turned out to be unreliable. But now, another dubious narrative is all the rage: the Obamacare horror story. Bob talks to health policy writer Maggie Mahar, who is very suspicious of the nightmarish tales reported in the media. 




Maggie Mahar

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [11]

Shane Irving from Oregon

Good catch.... The time has past when you could actually trust what presented in the Media. I guess they no longer teach ethics in many Communication classes.

Feb. 04 2014 11:57 AM

Eric from Albany,

You make an excellent point on technology coverage. I would go one step further to say that technology beat reporters often do not get the policy issues of technology. In the case of the ACA federal exchange, one of the main failings was the authentication capability. Essentially, with no way to associate the online identity with the backend identities used by IRS et cetera with good authentication, the process was incredibly fraught using knowledge based authentication. This is based on the novelty of associating online with official offline sensitive personal data in a strictly online transaction. As the drafter of the legislation making electronic signatures legal, this was known back in 1998 when it was enacted (GPEA). In the intervening decade and a half, we still do not have a good solution. And as this is not purely technological problem, it goes unexplained.

And to Mark Richards,

To reiterate, the source of many of the horror stories about the pre-ACA health care system that came for Families USA and the Clinton administration were definitely accurate and well vetted. But the more recent effort to just put up nonsensical and misleading stories about the ACA (not to say there are not serious problems) is successful as propaganda, although unethical. My father would never stoop to lying, and it was not necessary to make his points.

Daniel Bennett

Jan. 16 2014 03:24 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus OH

Would that OTM and public radio brought this kind of skepticism to the considerable industry 'horror stories' peddled by the Democratic Party and its allies in and out of the journalistic game. This is, after all, the party that made victimology a baseline element of Party ideology. If OTM and its apparently credulous posters don't believe that this happens on both sides of the aisle, I would be happy to begin their education. When OTM does note cracks in the stories promoted by worshippers of the State (that's what 'the Left' has pretty much deteriorated into) - and, to be fair, it has done so on occasion - it is much less aggressive about assigning ideological or partisan motives to the promoters of this media-bait.

Jan. 15 2014 05:09 PM
Eric from Albany CA

If you think there aren't enough journalists in the U.S. who have sufficient knowledge of health policy issues, the problem is even worse when it comes to coverage of large-scale IT projects (such as the web site developed by the Federal government for enrollment in Obamacare). Few reporters have acquired the expertise required to cover this issue.

Jan. 13 2014 07:20 PM
Politics Watcher

Well, Duh. Of course the media lie about Obamacare. They're controlled by CEOs, members of the 1%, and therefore always push the Republican agenda over the truth.

Jan. 13 2014 02:32 PM
Robert Lehmert from Berlin Vermont

Bob Garfield - Now HERE'S an Obamacare story that cries out for sunshine....

Jan. 13 2014 09:48 AM
Daniel Bennett from Washington, DC

I think that there is a much larger story here about the state of media in our country. My father helped set up what was a highly successful effort to supply reporters from around the country with anecdotal health care stories. Since the late 1980's, he was able to get horror stories where middle class and working class families ran into US health care system and lost badly. All of these stories were thoroughly vetted so that the reputation of the effort would not be sullied and that the reporters could do their own checking as well.

What the OTM story is finding may be a symptom of the loss of thousands of beat reporters who knew their beat well and both journalistic ethics and capability to write responsibly. And they had editors that wanted accuracy. That so many false stories are getting into the media is not just the work of advocacy groups that are sloppy and do not know how to sort out false stories, but that it is better to get ones that are false and salacious. What is the downside of false stories that get pushed into the public realm? Do the "journalists" get burned and lose their jobs? Does the ensuing controversy over the validity of the story actually help to keep it in the news and solidify preconceived notions.

I wish you would dig deeper into this story as you may find out more about how journalism has changed and the power of false stories for advocates. Of course, my father had a sterling reputation and would never allow false stories to be shopped to reporters. And if you are interested in learning more about the misery databank and how it worked, let me know.

Jan. 13 2014 09:40 AM
Becky Miller from Moscow, ID

I wanted to stand up and cheer today when I heard Maggie Mahar, when asked if she was an advocate for the ACA, reply, "I am an advocate for the truth." Not an agenda, not a point of view, no foolish false equivalencies. I wish every journalist and student of journalism could be strapped down and made to listen to this interview to remind them what it's about!

Jan. 13 2014 02:19 AM
Michael Russell from San Diego

I see that there are going to be those who question the objectivity of OTM, and the veracity of the claims that most of the stories about Obamacare will cost some people 'more' or that the 'canceled' insurance policies are 'better' than the new Obamacare insurance. Thus, I offer this challenge:

If you believe you know of a REAL instance where someone got a WORSE deal under Obamacare that cost them more or lowered their insurance coverage, then send me their personal contact information at

I will personally do the due diligence, and document their old and new policies and the facts of their cost and coverage. If we can find a REAL instance where a person is worse off under Obamacare (not just getting a better deal that they don't want) then I will pay the person who brings me this information US$100.

Thanks for your time.

Jan. 12 2014 08:48 PM
Art Kazar

What is it about the conservative media that time and time again their "facts" or "examples" turn out to be half-truths or outright falsehoods? Aren't they journalists? Don't they verify, verify and verify again? Or are Fox, Wash. Times and various Blogs or twitter just mouthpieces for the right?

Jan. 12 2014 01:39 PM
Seamus Riley

Appreciate the fact checking you bring to many of your stories such as this one, but I often become suspicious of OTM's vetting process. Mahar's claims against Deborah Cavallero assume Ms. Cavallero would in fact be eligible for government subsidies. How is she able to verify whether or not the woman is eligible for the subsidies she claims would actually save her money?

Then Bob takes Mahar on her word that she's simply not biased toward White House policy/The Democratic Party or against Tea Party politics/The Republican Party's opposition to Obamacare. Come on, Bob. I have a full time job which is why I rely on you to look up Mahar's other column writings to expose bias and not just take her on her word. That's YOUR job.

Not QUITE as bad as the episode where OTM asked if NPR had a liberal bias and then spent an hour pretty much saying "we don't see it" after interviews with NPR reps and one opposing view: a preacher who just doesn't like the way things sound. Come on, guys. Please do better than this.

Jan. 12 2014 04:35 AM

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