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A new TV attack ad against former Gov. Charlie Crist zeroes in on Crist’s support for Obamacare.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, unveiled the ad March 24, 2014. Scott’s campaign said it will spend $2 million on the statewide ad set to start running March 27. The ad repeats snippets of Crist’s March 9 interview on CNN when he called Obamacare "great."
"Great?" the narrator says. "News reports say 300,000 health plans canceled. Obama says patients may lose their doctors. The federal government says less work hours for American jobs," the narrator says, repeating Crist’s "great" comment. "Great, Charlie? Obamacare may have been great for Charlie’s political career, but it’s not great for the rest of us."
Crist is a Republican turned independent who is now the Democratic frontrunner challenging Scott.
There are a lot of claims about Obamacare in the ad, but we wanted to focus on one that has received considerable media attention in Florida: Were 300,000 health plans canceled?
The ad flashed a picture of an October front page article in the St. Augustine Record about 300,000 plans from Florida’s version of Blue Cross Blue Shield, known as Florida Blue.
In 2013, Florida Blue started sending letters to about 300,000 members that explained that the Affordable Care Act mandates that plans provide 10 categories of essential benefits. Some Florida Blue plans didn’t include those services, so those plans would be closed. But that didn’t mean those 300,000 members were stranded without insurance.
The Miami Herald’s Public Insight Network obtained copies of letters received by Florida Blue consumers. The letters stated that due to the Affordable Care Act, the consumer’s particular plan "will be closed" and recommended another Florida Blue plan.
"To help ensure that you have continuous health care coverage, you’ll be enrolled in this health plan effective Jan. 1, 2014, unless we hear from you by Nov. 1, 2013."
The letters stated that consumers could choose a different Florida Blue plan.
"We’ll help you find a plan that’s right for you," the letter stated.
What happened to the 300,000?
There’s more to the 300,000 number than the ad suggests.
"It is important to note that the ‘300,000’ was a number that was being used when describing how many Florida Blue members could receive a notice that their policies would not be compliant with ACA requirements throughout all of 2014, if no extension was provided to these plans," spokesman Paul Kluding told PolitiFact Florida in an email. "In actuality, only 40,000 letters were mailed to members with Jan. 1, 2014, effective dates. Subsequent notices were sent to these members notifying them that their existing plans would remain active and unchanged through 2014."
In November, Florida Blue announced it was giving policyholders another year to keep their coverage after President Barack Obama asked insurers to allow customers who wanted to keep the old plans to keep them for an additional year.
"To date, most of the members in our pre-ACA plans have kept their plans," Kluding said.
Former state Sen. Steve Geller, an informal adviser to Crist’s campaign, pointed to that decision by Obama and said, "few if any Floridians will lose their current health insurance policies."
Florida Blue helped about 60,000 move to the exchange -- those were members who would benefit from moving to Obamacare plans either due to subsidies, the new coverage or premiums, Kluding said.
If their income was below 400 percent of the poverty level (below about $94,200 for a family of four, for example), they would have gotten a subsidy to buy insurance on the federal marketplace. Some of these people may end up paying more but getting more robust coverage. It’s unclear how many, if any, would simply stop buying coverage altogether.
But since Obama offered the extension, it’s too soon for us to conclude what will ultimately happen to the majority of the 300,000 Florida Blue members.
"Whether or not new plans are available (in some cases they are not and in others, as I said, they’re less desirable for consumers than those that were canceled), those policies were canceled as a result of Obamacare," Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair told PolitiFact in an email. "This is the central component to the ‘if you like your plan you can keep it’ falsehood, which I believe was rated ‘lie of the year’ by PolitiFact."
The Republicans pointed to news articles from last fall after the initial news broke and before the extension.
A Kaiser Health News article in October explained that while consumers were shocked by the cancellation notices, insurers were poised to place those with canceled policies on other plans.
"By all accounts, the new policies will offer consumers better coverage, in some cases, for comparable cost -- especially after the inclusion of federal subsidies for those who qualify," the article stated. The AP article in early November stated that at least 3.5 million Americans had received cancellations but were being transition to other plans.
Scott's TV ad says, "300,000 health plans canceled," attributing the number to news reports.
Last fall, Florida Blue started sending letters to 300,000 members stating that their plans didn’t comply with Obamacare and would be canceled. However, the ad omits key information here: Members were offered new plans that complied with the law. Obama later announced that people could keep their plans for another year and most of the Florida Blue members have kept their pre-Obamacare plans for now.
The statement has an element of truth but leaves out important details, so we rate this claim Mostly False.
Let’s Get to Work, "Charlie Crist on Obamacare: great" TV ad, March 24, 2014
Tampa Bay Times The Buzz, "New Rick Scott TV slams Crist for calling Obamacare ‘great,’" , March 24, 2014
Associated Press, "Scott launches new TV ad ripping Crist," March 24, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Canceled by Florida Blue? You can keep your policy another year," Nov. 15, 2014
PolitiFact, "300,000 lose health plans? More to the story than that," Feb. 14, 2014
St. Augustine Record, "Florida Blue to cancel 300,000 policies over Obamacare," Oct. 23, 2014
Kaiser Health News, "Thousands of consumers get insurance cancellation notices due to health law changes," Oct. 21, 2013
Associated Press, "Obamacare finally gets real for America: at least 3.5 million policies canceled," Nov. 4, 2014
Health News Florida, "Florida Blue cancels 300,000 health policies," Oct. 21, 2013
Florida Times-Union, "The truth behind the headline: ‘Florida Blue to ax 300,000 policies,’" Oct. 24, 2013
PolitiFact, "Barack Obama promises you can keep your health insurance, but there’s no guarantee,"Aug. 11, 2009
Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog, "Florida Blue: though we’re canceling 300k policies, we’re giving ‘migrating’ options," Oct. 24, 2013
Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog, "Who’s to blame for 300,000 policy purge? Florida Blue or Obamacare or both?" Oct. 23, 2013
Miami Herald’s Health Watch blog, "Consumers react to getting cancellation notices from their insurers," Oct. 21, 2013
Interview, Paul Kluding, spokesman Florida Blue, March 24, 2014
Interview, Susan Hepworth, spokeswoman Republican Party of Florida, March 24, 2014
Interview, Greg Blair, spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign, March 24, 2014
Interview, Kevin Cate, spokesman for Charlie Crist’s campaign, March 24, 2014
Interview, Former state sen. Steve Geller, informal adviser to Charlie Crist campaign, March 24, 2014
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