Ad Audit
5:00 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

Ad Audit: New Ad Attacking Shaheen Uses Disputed Statistic

The latest television ad attacking Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., for her support of the Affordable Care Act features a statistic on premium increases in New Hampshire that's been widely disputed.

The 30-second spot, paid for by Americans for Prosperity, focuses primarily on the so-called narrow network of providers in New Hampshire, which excludes 10 of the state’s 26 hospitals.

“New Hampshire is famous for its scenic drives, but they are tough to enjoy when you are on your way to the doctor,” a female narrator says as a woman drives her two children through some classic fall foliage. “Because Obamacare limits your choices, some will have to drive more than an hour to see a doctor. ”

But the ad also touches on another criticism of the law: its potential impact on premiums. 

In its opening moments, three lines of text appear on the screen: “Health Care Premiums Up 90% in New Hampshire – Forbes.com 4/17/14.”

The Forbes article, which was actually published April 7, reported on a national survey of insurance brokers by Morgan Stanley. Republicans in New Hampshire pounced on the survey as proof that the ACA is, as NH GOP director Jennifer Horn put it in a press release, "an unmitigated disaster."

The Union Leader put a report on the survey on its front page, beneath the headline "Survey: NH health premiums up 90%." A day later, the newspaper again took up the "stunning news" in an editorial. 

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who at the time was still considering a run for Shaheen's seat, got into the act, tweeting a link to the Forbes piece and releasing a statement that deplored "the latest sad reminder of the consequences of this broken law."

Four days later, however, when Brown officially announced he was entering the race, he removed any reference to the 90 percent claim from his comments. 

That's because, as NHPR and others reported, the statistic was, at best, next to impossible to verify, at worst, a fabrication. Only one of the 148 insurance brokers surveyed by Morgan Stanley works in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Insurance Department also cast doubt on the claim, saying that, while individual premiums can vary significantly, the average rate did not go up by 90 percent.

In a more detailed rebuttal by Factcheck.org, the department said that an independent analysis estimated that the Affordable Care Act would actually decrease premiums for many individual policyholders in New Hampshire.

The 2012 analysis by Gorman Actuarial predicted that, once federal premium subsidies are factored in, more than one third of policyholders on the individual market would see an average 63 percent premium decrease, while about 30 percent would see increases averaging 57 percent despite the subsidies.

One expert told Factcheck.org that the survey's reliance on a single New Hampshire broker for the 90 percent claim was about as reliable as “calling one person up on the phone and asking their opinion.”

Within hours of the new ad's rollout Wednesday, Factcheck.org was back on the case:

The ad, which began airing on two New Hampshire stations Wednesday at a reported cost of $457,000, quickly drew pushback from local Democrats. Lucas Meyer, press secretary for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, offered a bit of advice to Americans for Prosperity, which has signaled its intentions to spend heavily on the Senate race.

Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire, said that as long as Forbes continues to stand by its report on the Morgan Stanley survey, the 90 percent claim is valid.

"Certainly Sen. Shaheen has taken issue with it, but Forbes has not backed down from it and it certainly is in the public domain," he said. "And we feel as long as it's in the public domain, it's fair game."

Americans for Prosperity has already spent millions attacking Democrats across the country over the ACA, although a number of the spots have been found to be less than truthful, according to various fact checkers.

But despite the inclusion of the questionable premium claim, the latest ad will likely ring true for many Granite Staters, especially the 51 percent who, according to a recent UNH poll, oppose the ACA. 

It points out that 22,000 policyholders had their plans canceled because they were not compliant with the new law. And the narrow network established by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield at the heart of the ad is being challenged by Frisbie Memorial Hospital and one of its patients. 

In the closely watched case, the patient, Margaret McCarthy, has requested a hearing with state insurance officials, alleging that Anthem’s network is inadequate.

Anthem has defended the narrower network, arguing that it reduced the cost of ACA policies by 25 percent. The Insurance Department has also found Anthem’s plans meet coverage standards, which take into account the distance patients must travel for care.

A hearing scheduled for April 9 was postponed while Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny considers a motion filed by Anthem that argues McCarthy’s request is "untimely." 

A decision is expected soon. Meanwhile, the department has begun to look into network adequacy standards, especially health plans that exclude doctors and hospitals.

This is the first in an occasional series where NHPR's Brian Wallstin will examine the claims made in political ads.