Deborah Cavallaro, a real estate agent in suburban Los Angeles, sure became a minor media celeb last week. Cavallaro, a 60-year-old blonde, emerged as a face of a story to which reporters came inexcusably late: Some people in the individual insurance market are receiving cancellation letters from their insurance providers, along with offers to buy often pricier Obamacare-compliant policies. Cavallaro has been on the media circuit telling her story with well-polished phrases, convincing outrage, and pithy sound bites tailor-made for the broadcast news. Why, she almost sounded media-trained.
Last Tuesday, she showed up on NBC Nightly News to illustrate the story of the week: the president’s broken promise that “if you like your [health] plan, you can keep it.” Cavallaro recently got a cancellation notice from her insurer since her policy didn’t comply with the new benefit standards called for by the Affordable Care Act.
“All I want is what I currently have. I want to keep my doctors and I would like to have lower premiums,” she said on camera. It seems she’d have to pay her insurer nearly $200 more for a new plan with possibly better coverage. It also seems she represents what can happen when journalists don’t do their own digging. Much more on that to come.
NBC made good use of Cavallaro’s tale last week. She appeared on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown on Tuesday morning, where the network’s White House correspondent Chuck Todd announced, “We’re hearing from people who buy their insurance on the individual market like self-employed realtor Deborah Cavallaro who recently got a notice from her insurers saying her policy will no longer be offered because of the new requirements in the law.” In a lengthy segment Wednesday on CNBC’s Morning Bell with Maria Bartiromo, Cavallaro had a lot to say (emphasis mine):
I really wish that he [the president] would stop repeating the same thing, which is, the plans that 19 million of us approximately have are inferior substandard plans. Please explain to me how my plan is a substandard plan, when in fact, I can go to any doctor that I want. I can go to any hospital that I want. The premium is lower than the premiums of several of the plans I have already looked at that are approved. I’d be paying more for the exchange plans than I am currently paying by a wide margin, as I mentioned the other day, 65 percent, and I can’t go to the doctors want.
So where was Cavallaro “the other day?” A week earlier, on October 21, she appeared on CBS Channel 2 in Los Angeles presenting her tale. “I was infuriated, totally infuriated [to receive the cancellation letter from her insurer],” she said. “It’s sort of like forcing you to walk the plank.” At the end of the segment, CBS’s Randy Paige noted that Cavallaro says her “only option is to be forced into a plan she doesn’t want and can’t afford.” Cavallaro reinforced the point for viewers: “Stop the madness. Stop Killing us, because you are killing us.”
Two days later, on October 23, she appeared on Marketplace. Same story; Different words. On air she called the cancellations an “outrage—absolutely outrage,” adding “my complaint with the president and the administration is that they are simply not telling the whole truth.” In wrapping up the Marketplace segment reporter Sara Gardner gave a more nuanced view of Cavallaro’s predicament, reporting that Cavallaro can “comparison shop in the new state health exchanges.” Gardner noted Cavallaro “hasn’t investigated that yet.” I wonder why Gardner didn’t “investigate that”—or NBC or CNBC, for that matter?
Then last Tuesday, the day Cavallaro appeared on NBC Nightly News, she also showed up on Fox News’ Your World With Neil Cavuto where she announced her plight was “the same thing we’ve been hearing from a lot of people.” Her insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, had a plan for her that was similar to the one it was cancelling, which “would cost me 65 percent more per month than I would be paying. ” What’s more, she said the carrier couldn’t tell her much about whether her doctors would be covered or her drugs covered on the new plan’s formulary, but advised they were going to make changes. “Amazing,” said Cavuto.
On Thursday, LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik offered a mini-expose of sorts, “debunk[ing]” Cavallaro’s “Obamacare horror story,” which, he explained, was “the product of her own misunderstandings, abetted by a passel of uninformed and incurious news reporters.”