By Denise Tessier
Usually, the Albuquerque Journal headlines its columns and letters with a summary of what the letter or column contains. A case in point is Rep. Steve Pearce’s July 20 guest column, “Health Care Law Will Hurt Middle Class.”
Some might not read past the headline and think the Affordable Care Act will hurt the middle class, but that’s fodder for another post. In this case, as is the norm, the headline reflects what the column says, which in this case is Pearce’s position – that ACA will hurt the middle class.
What’s interesting is that on July 27, the headline at the top of the Op-ed page defied the norm, as if the editors didn’t know how to summarize the half dozen letters below it. The headline (in unusually small type) was merely: “Rep. Pearce Opposes Affordable Care Act.”
The letters below that headline each had its own message, but they were united on one theme: All disagreed heartily with Pearce’s position and were reacting negatively to the column that ran July 20.
Perhaps the letter writers were emboldened by Journal reporter Win Quigley’s short story on July 23, in which he asked a Pearce aide to clarify what Pearce meant when the congressman said he voted to repeal ACA because it would cost New Mexican families “roughly $4,700 a year in new taxes alone.”
In a nutshell, as Quigley explained, there is a discrepancy between Pearce’s statement and figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org web site. The simplest way to explain that discrepancy, to borrow from Quigley:
Partly it is the way Pearce views taxation. Partly it is in the data Pearce uses and the way he calculates the tax.
What’s impressive is the research each letter writer brings to the conversation, whether disputing Pearce’s claims that the act will cause layoffs and cause employers to drop coverage, or lamenting Pearce’s lack of an alternative that will improve the health care system, or providing first-hand testimony about the benefits of the new law.
Among them is Rick Thaler, a local businessman with more than 80 employees who says he pays 100 percent of their health insurance coverage. He wrote:
Many have been with me for decades, and I believe they are the best. In our system we use health benefits as the opportunity to recruit and retain the best staff we can find, but insurance should not be a benefit available to only the lucky few. One of my key employees recently had an accident at home that will leave him out of work for a year and probably permanently disabled. This is a tragedy, but without insurance it would be a catastrophe. At most other businesses like mine in Albuquerque, he would be without help and without hope.
. . .My problem is that some of my competitors — no doubt the gang beseeching Rep. Steve Pearce to protect them from the evils of providing health care to their employees — have a cost advantage over hundreds of employers who like myself value their employees enough to incur these costs.
And health insurance premium costs, whether paid for by employers or individuals, are significantly higher than the phony tax the congressman refers to — he knows there is no such tax on families in the law. . .
Other highlights from the letters:
. . . The text of the Affordable Care Act does not require any business with fewer than 50 employees to purchase insurance at all. I have shopped at, serviced and even worked for small businesses in and around the Albuquerque area, and even the most well-off of these seem to have fewer than 20 employees. I am unclear why an act that requires nothing of them and provides financial incentives to provide insurance is causing them to reduce their workforce. . . . I am a little offended by Pearce’s insistence that this law that helps me so much is hurting people, statements for which he provides so little real evidence from the law itself. – Ren Price, Albuquerque
The opponents of a bill tell you a lot about it. The ones who are so adamantly opposed to the health care act are those who benefit from the status quo. The benefactors are pharmaceuticals, insurance and portions of the health care industry. . . – Leon Logan, Tucumcari
(The $4,700 tax) claim is absurd and fails a simple sanity check. According to the Census Bureau, as of 2010 there were 116.7 million households in the United States. At $4,700 per household, the total new tax revenue would be $548 billion per year. That would eliminate half of the OMB’s estimated $1.1 trillion deficit for 2012.
This seems to be one of those political myths that Republicans hope if repeated often enough and loudly enough, people will believe without checking. . . .Later I saw Journal business reporter Win Quigley’s article on how Pearce got his $4,700.
Pearce says that since the health care mandate penalty is a tax, then all health insurance premiums are taxes and this is the average number for New Mexicans. Calling a health insurance premium (as opposed to just the mandate penalty) a tax doesn’t make it one. . . . Olin Bray, Albuquerque
Back to that small headline over the letters: Perhaps it was reduced to get more copy on the page, and the letter-writers do get two-thirds of the page. But the headline is pretty small, especially when compared to the headline on Pearce’s original column, which was three times bigger.
Still, the writers had a forum. Perhaps Pearce will check it out.