The conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, which counts the Koch Brothers among its backers, recently poured a million dollars into TV, radio and online ads in Michigan's hotly contested Senate race between Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R).
The newest ad released by AFP airs the testimony of Julie Boonstra, who is fighting leukemia and had her insurance plan canceled when Obamacare went into effect. Hundreds of thousands of insurance policies were canceled this year for not meeting Affordable Care Act guidelines.
"Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it's unaffordable," Boonstra says in the ad. "If I do not receive my medication, I will die."
The commercial is devastating. But is it true?
(Watch the newest AFP ad above.)
Boonstra, of Dexter, Mich., was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia five years ago. In October 2013, along with an estimated 225,000 of her fellow Michiganders, she received a letter from her insurance provider informing her that her plan would be discontinued in 2014 and that she would have to purchase alternative coverage. Boonstra had found a doctors and other specialists she trusted, according to a Heritage Newspapers op-ed. She also relies on an expensive oral chemotherapy medication.
Technical difficulties with the Obamacare website rollout meant Boonstra spent hours last fall trying to complete an online application for new insurance to no avail, she said. Boonstra became an advocate for repealing the Affordable Care Act and was invited by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) to be his guest at the 2014 State of the Union address.
It's the numbers of her story, however, that don't exactly add up. Boonstra told the Detroit News last month that she was previously covered by a Blue Care Network plan with a $1,100 monthly premium and low out-of-pocket costs. Through an insurance agent, she signed up for a new plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield that allows her to keep her oncologist. Her monthly premium has been cut almost in half, to $571.
That sounds like progress. Yet Levi Russell, director of public affairs for Americans for Prosperity, told The Huffington Post that Boonstra still has concerns. He said Boonstra is not sure that her daily oral chemotherapy medicine will be covered by her new plan. "Since her out of pocket costs are so much higher now, her costs have quickly become unpredictable," Russell wrote in an email. "Rather than knowing exactly what she would have to pay every month, she now is facing a roller coaster of expenses that vary with her health. She said she feels like a surprise is around every corner, since she keeps being hit with new out of pocket costs every time she needs treatment, or a test, or even an office visit."
But the Affordable Care Act also caps out-of-pocket costs -- deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance fees that a patient pays -- for essential health benefits. The maximum out-of-pocket costs for an individual plan in 2014 is $6,350.
Russell sent HuffPost this statement from Boonstra about her new plan. "It's totally unaffordable to me," she says, adding, "As I had stated, when I picked up Blue Care Network, it was an expensive plan, but it met my needs. In order for me to have that plan, I basically sold my house, drained my savings account. My 401k plan was gone, but it was a priority. I'm here today because of it. Now, I don't know how I'm going to afford any of this."
Before her insurance policy was canceled, Boonstra paid $13,200 a year in premiums, not counting any out-of-pocket costs for which she may have been responsible. Under her new plan, her annual premium has been cut to $6,852. Her out-of-pocket expenses are capped by the Affordable Care Act at $6,350, which adds up to a maximum annual expense of $13,202 -- just two dollars more than what she previously paid in premiums.
Boonstra declined to comment on these calculations.
But according to the figures, Boonstra's new insurance plan may add up to an Obamacare success story.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker column also ran the numbers and assigned the Boonstra ad "Two Pinocchios."
"A fuller accounting is necessary if AFP is going to air ads like this," The Fact Checker wrote. It added, "Too many anecdotal stories, on both sides, have fallen apart under close scrutiny."
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