GOP’s latest, desperate Obamacare strategy: Try to confuse Americans!

Rather than field inquiries or provide constituents with information, Republicans want them mixed up by Obamacare

Topics: Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, Rate shock, Jason Chaffetz, Tim Huelskamp, The Right, Health Care, GOP,

GOP's latest, desperate Obamacare strategy: Try to confuse Americans!Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com/Reuters/Gary Cameron/Jonathan Ernst)

If you’ve received a letter from your health insurance company advising you that your plan has been canceled because of Obamacare (and perhaps offering to shift you into much more expensive coverage) you’re probably wondering what remedies are available to you.

In an ideal world you could call your member of Congress or one of your senators and ask his or her staff to help you sort through your options.

But if your representatives are Republicans, the very idea of providing you assistance runs at cross-purposes with their desire to turn you into a talking point.

Introducing… #YOURSTORY!

It’s a new campaign organized by the Senate Republican conference to turn your frustration, anger and/or confusion over the Affordable Care Act into an anecdote for a floor speech or a sound bite for a reporter whose job it is to find some Obamacare “losers.”

Now obviously most of the submissions Senate Republicans will field will come from constituents who are already unfavorably disposed toward the law. And their stories will be relayed to other constituents who are unfavorably disposed to the law. So the public relations value of #YOURSTORY is probably pretty marginal.

But consider for a moment what it implies about the GOP’s commitment to providing responsible constituent services.

Recall Dianne Barrette, who did an about-face on Obamacare once its benefits were explained to her clearly and responsibly. But it wasn’t a member of Congress who provided that assistance. It certainly wasn’t any of the Republicans who helped turn her into the embodiment of the Affordable Care Act’s failure and President Obama’s broken promises. It was a reporter.

Now I don’t know if Barrette reached out to any elected officials in the first place. For all I know her member of Congress is a Democrat. But it speaks volumes about the GOP’s commitments that they pounced on her story when it was so borderline to begin with, and moved on once she was no longer of any use.

In reality, Barrette’s story illustrates that a little bit of information about Obamacare can turn bewilderment into satisfaction. Many of the people receiving cancellation notices or experiencing rate shock will eventually find that they’re pretty happy with their new options. But when that happens, their human interest value collapses, as does their usefulness toward the end of undermining Obamacare. So what are the odds, do you suppose, that Republicans are providing this kind of information to their constituents themselves?

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The ugly subtext to stories like these — which proliferate so rapidly, but then turn out upon closer inspection to be less black-and-white than originally depicted — is that Republicans are fostering and nurturing constituent confusion.

#YOURSTORY is a manifestation of that strategy. A site like #YOURSTORY could be just as easily used to field inquiries and respond to troubled constituents with useful information. Instead it’ll be used as a crowdsourcing tool for anti-Obamacare opportunists.

The existence of a campaign like this suggests that the universe of individual Republicans who are refusing to help constituents navigate the Affordable Care Act is larger than we know. And we know it exists.

“Given that we come from Kansas, it’s much easier to say, ‘Call your former governor,’” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., told the Hill, referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “You say, ‘She’s the one. She’s responsible. She was your governor, elected twice, and now you reelected the president, but he picked her.’”

“We know how to forward a phone call,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “I have two dedicated staff who deal with nothing but Obamacare and immigration problems. I’m sure there will be an uptick in that, but all we can do is pass them back to the Obama administration. The ball’s in their court. They’re responsible for it.”

The strategic logic here is perverse, but there is a logic to it.

Millions of people are getting cancellation notices from their insurers. Most of those people will be pretty happy with the new system — if they’re made aware of and guided through it by conscientious public servants. The conundrum for conservatives is that once enough people are enrolled in Obamacare, its constituency will be too large for them to support repealing it without offering some alternative that also expands coverage to millions and millions of people. Which is to say, Republicans would be working against their own public policy ambitions if they did right by people receiving these letters. So they’re using them as pawns instead.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at bbeutler@salon.com and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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