Earlier this month, a day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Ashleigh Morley visited her congressman’s Facebook page to voice her dismay.
“Your vote yesterday was unthinkably irresponsible and does not begin to account for the thousands of constituents in your district who rely upon many of the services and provisions provided for them by the ACA,” Morley wrote on the page affiliated with the campaign of Representative Pete King (R-New York). “You never had my vote and this confirms why.”
The next day, Morley says, her comment was deleted and she was blocked from commenting on or reacting to King’s posts. The same thing has happened to others critical of King’s positions on healthcare and other matters. King has deleted negative feedback and blocked critics from his Facebook page, say several of his constituents who shared screenshots of comments that are no longer there.
“Having my voice and opinions shut down by the person who represents me — especially when my voice and opinion wasn’t vulgar and obscene — is frustrating, it’s disheartening, and I think it points to perhaps a larger problem with our representatives and maybe their priorities,” Morley says.
King’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
As Republican members of Congress seek to roll back the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, and replace it with the American Health Care Act (AHCA), they have adopted various strategies to influence and cope with public opinion, which, polls show, mostly opposes their plan. ProPublica, with our partners at Kaiser Health News, STAT and Vox, has been fact-checking members of Congress in this debate and we’ve found misstatements on both sides, though more by Republicans than Democrats. The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” has similarly found misstatements by both sides.
Today, we’re back with more examples of how legislators are interacting with constituents about repealing Obamacare, whether online or in traditional correspondence. Their more controversial tactics seem to fall into three main categories: providing incorrect information, using euphemisms for the impact of their actions and deleting comments critical of them. (Share your correspondence with members of Congress with us at ProPublica.)
Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri) sent a note to constituents this month explaining her vote in favor of the Republican bill. First, she outlined why she believes the ACA is not sustainable — namely, higher premiums and few choices. Then she said it was important to have a smooth transition from one system to another.
“This is why I supported the AHCA to follow through on our promise to have an immediate replacement ready to go should the ACA be repealed,” she wrote. “The AHCA keeps the ACA for the next three years then phases in a new approach to give people, states, and insurance markets plenty of time to make adjustments.”
Except that’s not true.
“There are quite a number of changes in the AHCA that take effect within the next three years,” wrote ACA expert Timothy Jost, emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, in an email to ProPublica.
The current law’s penalties on individuals who do not purchase insurance and on employers who do not offer it would be repealed retroactively to 2016, which could remove the incentive for some employers to offer coverage to their workers. Moreover, beginning in 2018, older people could be charged premiums up to five times more than younger people — up from three times under current law. The way in which premium tax credits would be calculated would change as well, benefiting younger people at the expense of older ones, Jost wrote.
“It is certainly not correct to say that everything stays the same for the next three years,” he wrote.
In an email, Hartzler spokesman Casey Harper replied, “I can see how this sentence in the letter could be misconstrued. It’s very important to the Congresswoman that we give clear, accurate information to her constituents. Thanks for pointing that out.”
Other lawmakers have similarly shared incorrect information after voting to repeal the ACA. Representative Diane Black (R-Tennessee) wrote in a 19 May email to a constituent that “in 16 of our counties, there are no plans available at all. This system is crumbling before our eyes and we cannot wait another year to act.”
Black was referring to the possibility that, in 16 Tennessee counties around Knoxville, there might not have been any insurance options in the ACA marketplace next year. However, 10 days earlier, before she sent her email, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced that it was willing to provide coverage in those counties and would work with the state Department of Commerce and Insurance “to set the right conditions that would allow our return.”
“We stand by our statement of the facts, and Congressman Black is working hard to repeal and replace Obamacare with a system that actually works for Tennessee families and individuals,” her deputy chief of staff Dean Thompson said in an email.
On the Democratic side, The Washington Post “Fact Checker” has called out representatives for saying the AHCA would consider rape or sexual assault as preexisting conditions. The bill would not do that, although critics counter that any resulting mental health issues or sexually transmitted diseases could be considered existing illnesses.