New York Times writer Sabrina Tavernise recently visited southern West Virginia. She sought opinions about Obamacare. She found a contagion of paranoia.
One woman used biblical terminology to portray President Obama as a threat to the nation. Another was so suspicious of the Affordable Care Act that she had refused to enroll in its Medicaid expansion, despite an ER visit for painful kidney stones.
Sharon Mills of Welch is a 54-year-old disabled nurse who suffers renal failure. Without insurance, she had become despondent to the point of giving up on life. Finally, overcoming her fear, she enrolled in Obamacare's expanded Medicaid coverage. The light bulb came on.
"The heavy thing that was pressing on me is gone," she told the reporter. She added, "Now I've got insurance, I'm waiving that piece of paper (her first prescription) all over the place."
Enrollees' spirits soar, Tavernise found, once they realize that Obamacare is not a plot to take away their freedom. Cabin Creek Health Systems patient advocate Janie Hovatter described enrollees' changed outlooks: "They just kind of light up."
How did decent people find themselves neck deep in a swamp of misguided suspicion? What curse of misinformation left them in need of persuasion to embrace something as fundamental as a plan to add years to their lives?
The answer, I believe, lies in the awesome power of unyielding misrepresentation -- the mindless, heartless demonization of the Affordable Care Act by high-profile politicians who, along with extremist media talkers, prey on individuals such as those whom Tavernise met in West Virginia.
House tea party Caucus Chair Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., urged her fellow lawmakers to "repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke of "the enormous harms Obamacare is causing ... " Tex. Gov. Rick Perry said that Obamacare is " ... a felony ... a criminal act." Sarah Palin has described imaginary death panels. Our own Rep. Shelly Moore Capito has added to the swirl of fear with her frequent statements that we must get rid of the ACA, and has voted more than 40 times to repeal it.
Fox News' Sean Hannity called the ACA a "train wreck." His network comrade Bill O'Reilly termed Obamacare, "a form of communism."
Oddly, The Wall Street Journal provided opinion page space to well-known policy expert Suzanne Sommers. The 1970s sitcom star prefers the present U.S. system, in which the uninsured use the ER as their family doctor and we spend about 17 cents of every dollar on healthcare, to the Canadian system in which health insurance is universal and the citizens spend half as much cash for their health care, and they live just as long as we do.
Rush Limbaugh cemented his place in history as the Typhoid Mary of broad-based delusions when the wide wizard of weird put on his tin foil hat and proclaimed that the health insurance program, " ... is going to increase the divorce rate." Bizarre.
The ceaseless drumbeat of borderline psychotic rants has needlessly frightened everyday Mountaineers out of signing up for Obamacare insurance. Their comments are amplified and multiplied by like-minded politicians and B-list media talkers, and the result is that decent people remained chained in the dark, afraid of sensible health care.Wyatt is a Gazette contributing columnist and a professor at Marshall University.