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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Crossroads GPS’ Twisted Tale

An ad from Crossroads GPS leaves the false impression that a Colorado woman “had to go back to work” to pay for health care insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act. She told a local TV station that her decision to get a job had nothing to do with the health care law.

The Crossroads GPS ad is the latest in the anti-Obamacare genre that feature real people telling not-so-real stories. Richelle McKim of Castle Rock, Colorado, is featured in this ad, which attacks Democratic Sen. Mark Udall for supporting the Affordable Care Act.

McKim says Udall’s vote for the law in December 2009 “has hurt families in Colorado, for small-business owners that are trying to make it and support their families.” Just prior to attacking Udall’s vote, she talks about the risk her husband took to start a company, and the expense of buying health insurance.

“We knew that we needed to find health care,” she says to the soundtrack of slow, mournful piano chords and soft violins. “Because we were a single-income family, we couldn’t afford our plan.” As she speaks about being unable to afford a health plan, the text on the screen reads: “Richelle had to go back to work.”

She never says so, but the impression left by the ad’s deceptive framing is that she had to go back to work in order to afford a health care policy on Connect for Health Colorado, the state website created under the Affordable Care Act to purchase nongroup insurance policies. That’s not what happened.

The state exchange went into operation on Oct. 1, 2013. Under the federal law, all legal U.S. residents — with some exceptions — had to have insurance by the beginning of 2014 or pay a penalty. But she was not forced to buy insurance at unaffordable rates on the individual market, as implied in the ad.

An enterprising local TV station — KDVR, a Fox affiliate — reported that her LinkedIn page shows she worked for her husband’s company, Mission Basement, from July 2008 to May 2010. (Public records confirm that Bryan McKim formed the construction company in March 2008 at the family’s home in Castle Rock, Colorado.) Richelle McKim says on her LinkedIn page that she left Mission Basement to work at Anadarko Petroleum in May 2010 — more than three years before the ACA’s individual mandate took effect. She has worked outside the home continuously since May 2010, and now works for Noble Energy. (We created a PDF of her LinkedIn page, in the event that it is removed from the site, as it was after KDVR reported its story.)

Richelle McKim acknowledged in an interview with KDVR that the federal health care law had nothing to do with her decision to go back to work. “It wasn’t the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “It was just a financial burden, having a single income for so long.”

She also said she got a job outside the home so she could buy health insurance through her employer, which is how most U.S. residents get coverage. Only 5 percent of U.S. residents obtain insurance on the individual market, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KDVR, Aug. 7: When she was working from home, McKim and her young children were covered under her health insurance plan and her husband went without insurance. Adding him to the plan would have cost the family an extra $800 a month because he’d been treated for high blood pressure.

“He had no insurance and that was a very good thing for us,” she said. “We were able to choose if we wanted health insurance or not.”…

McKim’s husband is now covered under her employee plan offered by Noble, which offers medical, dental and prescription insurance plans to its employees; Anadarko, her previous employer, also offers medical plans.

“I went back to work to get benefits,” she said.

McKim defended the ad, telling KDVR that it “captured the heart of my message, which is that entrepreneurship is a risk and when you’re imposing overreaching policies that mandate people have to buy things they can’t afford, it takes that away.”

Starting a business is a risk, but the Affordable Care Act does little to increase that risk. The law exempts companies with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) from the requirement that companies pay a penalty if they do not offer health care insurance to their workers. So, the employer mandate that McKim talks about in the interview does not apply to 96 percent of U.S. firms with paid employees, according to the 2010 Census data on the Small Business Administration’s website.

The ACA may actually help small businesses. It provides a temporary, two-year tax credit to companies with fewer than 25 FTEs to help provide insurance to their employees, and it seeks to permanently reduce the cost further by creating the Small Business Health Options Program, which allows companies with up to 50 FTEs to leverage their purchasing power to obtain cheaper rates. The Small Business Administration outlines these and other programs created by the law that are designed to help small companies.

Whether the law on balance is a boon or bust for small businesses is debatable. The National Federation of Independent Business, which says 60 percent of its members have five or fewer employees, opposes the law and went to court to try to stop it from being implemented.

But what is not debatable is that the Crossroads GPS ad misleads Colorado voters. Richelle McKim did not have to “go back to work” because her family “couldn’t afford” Obamacare — as even McKim acknowledges.

— Eugene Kiely