STAT is working with other news organizations to collect and analyze letters and emails elected officials have sent to constituents on the Affordable Care Act. You can submit a lawmaker’s correspondence below.

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ismayed by the results of the 2016 election, Meg Godfrey decided she needed to do more than vote, share social media posts, and sign online petitions. So she went to the website of Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and typed a note in support of the Affordable Care Act.

“I asked him to use my tax dollars to provide health care to his constituents just like my tax dollars provide health care for him and his family,” she said she wrote.

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A short while later, Godfrey received an email reply from Blunt, essentially a form letter explaining why he supported the law’s repeal. “When President Obama signed this bill into law, he assured Americans that they would be able to keep their plans and doctors, while promising choice and affordability,” Blunt wrote. “Since the law has gone into effect, I have heard from countless Missourians who were unable to keep their insurance plans and/or providers.”

The email then gave a number of statistics to buttress Blunt’s position that the law is failing.

Something about the letter didn’t sit right with Godfrey, so she forwarded the email to ProPublica, asking us to fact check it. Our assessment: The note was misleading and lacked important context.

That led ProPublica to wonder about the accuracy of responses sent to constituents by other members of the House and Senate on the Affordable Care Act and its future. Today, ProPublica is teaming with journalists at STAT, Kaiser Health News, and Vox to gather those missives from our readers. On Monday, House Republican leaders unveiled their official proposal to repeal and replace the law. As the legislative debate begins in earnest, we plan to look at the representations made by elected officials from both parties and share what we find.

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Fact-checking Blunt’s email

ProPublica asked Timothy Jost, an ACA expert and emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, to review Blunt’s email. “Some of this information is inaccurate, the rest of it is spin,” he concluded.

A spokesman for Blunt provided citations for the data in the senator’s note but did not respond to a follow-up email.

Jost helped us break down Blunt’s message:

Blunt’s email: “By the end of 2013, over 4.7 million Americans had their health care plans canceled.”

Analysis: The 4.7 million figure came from an Associated Press article from December 2013, Blunt’s office said. Subsequent analyses, however, showed that the figure was overstated. Two researchers from the Urban Institute, writing in the journal Health Affairs, estimated that the number was closer to 2.6 million. Moreover, Jost notes, the Obama administration said states could allow insurers to leave transitional plans in place after Jan. 1, 2014. Missouri was one of the states that did so. “So if a plan was cancelled in Missouri, it was the decision of the insurer, not a federal requirement,” Jost wrote.

Blunt’s email: “This year, Missourians who purchase health insurance on the ObamaCare exchanges will see an average of a 25 percent increase on their premium.”

Analysis: The average premium for a Missouri plan did indeed increase by 25 percent this year, according to ACAsignups.net, a website that tracks the law and was cited by Blunt’s office. But that isn’t the entire story. First, the vast majority of marketplace enrollees in Missouri and nationwide receive hefty subsidies that reduce their cost.

Second, if you step out of the aggregate and look instead at a hypothetical person shopping for an affordable plan, the increase is lower. The Obama administration often compared monthly premiums for a 27-year-old in a benchmark plan (the plan upon which the government calculates subsidies). In Missouri, the premium actually decreased from $235 to $233 between 2014 and 2015. It increased 10 percent in 2016 and another 18 percent, to $305, for this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

But most enrollees aren’t paying the sticker price. Some 78 percent of Missouri marketplace consumers in 2016 could obtain coverage for $100 or less per month in 2017, after accounting for subsidies from the government, federal data show.

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Blunt’s email: “In addition to increased costs, families in Missouri and across the nation have lost the ability to choose a plan that best suits their health care needs. Missourians in 97 of 114 counties and the city of St. Louis will only have one option on the exchange.”

Analysis: Blunt is technically correct, but again the statistic lacks context, according to Politifact Missouri. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of Missouri’s roughly 6 million residents, about 63 percent live in the 17 counties and one city that will continue to have at least two provider choices,” the fact checker wrote in February.

What’s missing: Blunt’s email did not mention that more than 200,000 Missourians receive coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. It also didn’t mention that health insurance premiums routinely increased by large amounts before the law took effect and that many Missourians with preexisting conditions effectively had no insurers to pick from, Jost said.

The number of people without insurance has gone down under the ACA, falling from 13 percent in 2013 to 9.8 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Census Bureau.

Blunt spokesman Brian Hart declined to say how many people have written the senator about the ACA and what percentage of them were for or against the law.

Godfrey, who wrote to Blunt, is currently employed as a brand communications manager for a lighting manufacturer. She and her husband live in Northern California but are moving to St. Louis later this year. “I’m getting a head-start on my political activism in the state,” she wrote in an email to ProPublica. “We had planned to retire and get insurance on the exchange. Now we still plan to move but will, most likely, continue to work until we are eligible for Medicare.”

Godfrey, 62, said Blunt’s response to her was “infuriating.”

“I asked about what he was doing to take care of the people who elected him and he spouted misleading statistics,” she wrote. “I am surprised he didn’t bring up death panels [which do not exist]. I hate being treated like an idiot.”

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  • I’m convinced that most of the politicians who speak against the ACA really don’t understand what they’re talking about. It doesn’t affect them so they just keep quoting bogus statistics that they heard from another uninformed colleague.

  • So fact checking this absurd fact checking article we find:
    1. A person from Northern California wrote a Senator in Missouri about how much he or she liked the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Senator from MO sent back a letter saying why he didn’t think it was best for people in MO. This infuriated the person from California causing this whole beserk series of other claims. (Just guessing… the person from California lied to the Senator from MO to start with because typically you have to be from that state to keave a message on a particular Congressperson’s email system.)
    2. All the claims by the MO Senator are accurate according to your own left wing fact checker, who also knows nothing about MO, but who claims in turn that the MO Senator “lacked context” even though his claims are true
    3. Given that the facts are all true, it is necessary to “step out of the aggregate and look the hypothetical”–wow, summing up all that is wrong with the left in one phrase

    • It’s really sad and scary! Democracy requires all have a say, but also all are
      educated, knowledgeable and Honest. But there’s the rub!
      Dennis Byron’s comment exemplifies how futile it has become.
      He doesn’t grasp the explanations of facts nor understand the significance
      of context and concludes the complete opposite of matters despite the
      efforts of the Fact Checkers and Ornstein.
      They better recognize their reader’s capabilities and why they don’t grasp, say, the contextual point and difference in, “Missourians in 97 of 114 counties and the city of St. Louis will only have one option on the exchange”, versus, “63% of residents live in 17 counties that have at least two choices”., means about 2/3 of Missourians have more than 1 choice!
      Add to that, the other points likely also aren’t understood and he denies a
      person moving into a State the ability to ask questions of a Senator for that State, and even assumes the person lied to the Senator. Holy-Moly, how futile!!

    • Rich Caruso provides the perfect example of what’s wrong with the left:
      — My comment quoted 100% accurately from the article above. Caruso cannot defend a position with facts so he or she resorts to personal attack
      — But even in his or her vicious personal attack comment she or he proves the point of my comment: Caruso repeats the fact that a third of people in MO who want to buy insurance individually have no choice in healthcare insurance because of Obamacare, just as the MO senator said to the Californian and just as been listed as one of the five or six major problems with Obamacare that needs to be fixed.

      To Caruso apparently, seriously harming a couple of hundred thousand people in MO (and millions in the country with no choices, premiums that have doubled or worse, $10,000 deductibles, very limited networks, coverage for medical issues they never could possibly get, and more) is OK… it’s for the greater good… send the others to the gulag

  • I sent a similar letter to the Speaker Paul Ryan. Got a form letter spouting how wonderful The replacement plan will be. This is after my letter called into question how each provision will hurt more than help most Americans.

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