MSNBC.com Equates Calif. GOP Anti-ObamaCare Website to Scam Sites

In his December 4 story, "A bogus health care website, courtesy of the GOP," MSNBC.com's Geoffrey Cowley essentially compared a California Republican website which denounces ObamaCare to the numerous fraudulent scam sites cropping up which claim to sell health insurance but are ripping unsuspecting consumers off.

Cowley also seemingly lamented the inability of California officials to shut down the site, CoveringHealthCareCA.com, which he charged was a nefarious GOP plot to "undermine Obamacare" by "divert[ing] people" who were "looking for the [state] exchange site" (emphasis mine):


Fake health-care websites have cropped up like crab grass this fall, as crooks try to dupe consumers shopping for coverage through the insurance exchanges. On Tuesday, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway shut down a third fraudulent version of kynect.ky.gov. And in California last month, Attorney General Kamala Harris weeded out 10 phony versions of Covered California in one go.

“These websites fraudulently imitated Covered California in order to lure consumers away from plans that provide the benefits of the Affordable Care Act,” she said at the time. “My office will continue to investigate and shut down these kinds of sites.”

But one dubious site survived the California investigation. CoveringHealthCareCA.com is a decoy version of Covered California (CoveredCa.com), the state’s online health care marketplace. Though clearly intended to divert people who are looking for the exchange site, the decoy doesn’t sell fake insurance. It was created by the state’s own Republican legislators to undermine Obamacare.

California’s GOP assembly members launched the site in late August, with a press release claiming it would help inform state residents about the Affordable Care Act. “Hard-working Californians have serious questions about how the new federal health care mandate will affect them,” the assembly’s GOP leader said. “Our new website will give Californians the answers they are seeking and help them navigate through the confusing bureaucracy of the new federal health care law with ease.”

Yet the site’s own fine print concedes that the content may be bunk. “The California State Assembly does not warrant or make any representations as to the quality, content, accuracy, or completeness of the information, text, graphics, links and other items contained on this server,” it says. “Such materials have been compiled from a variety of sources.”

First off, finding the California state exchange site is incredibly simple. Californians need only go to HealthCare.gov -- cross their fingers that it works -- select "California" on the relevant drop-down menu, and then click the bright green bar reading "visit the covered California website."


Secondly, yours truly tried numerous Google searches -- I searched "obamacare california" as well as "help me buy health care in california" and "california health website" -- to find California health care options, and none of them produced the Republican site on the first page of results. The official California exchange, CoveredCA.com, however, was always at or near the top of the search hits.

Thirdly, Cowley is being disingenuous when he says that the California Assembly Republican Caucus is pushing bunk. The disclaimer he cited is similar to those of both the Assembly's Republican and Democratic Caucus websites. Here's the full disclaimer notice for the Democratic caucus website, hosted at asmdc.org (emphasis mine)

The California State Assembly does not warrant or make any representations as to the quality, content, accuracy, or completeness of the information, text, graphics, links and other items contained on this server or any other server. Such materials have been compiled from a variety of sources, and are subject to change without notice from the California State Assembly.

Communications made through this site's e-mail and messaging system shall in no way be deemed to constitute legal notice to the California State Assembly or any of its agencies, officer, employees, agents or representatives.

The presence of a link does not constitute or imply any endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation of the content of any linked site. The Assembly does not monitor, control, or fund any linked site and is not responsible for its content. If the linked site solicits funds, this should not be construed to mean that the Member is soliciting funds for that site.

Again, that is the exact same wording as the full disclosure on the GOP anti-ObamaCare site CoveringHealthCareCA.com:

The California State Assembly does not warrant or make any representations as to the quality, content, accuracy, or completeness of the information, text, graphics, links and other items contained on this server or any other server. Such materials have been compiled from a variety of sources, and are subject to change without notice from the California State Assembly.

Communications made through this site's e-mail and messaging system shall in no way be deemed to constitute legal notice to the California State Assembly or any of its agencies, officer, employees, agents or representatives.

The presence of a link does not constitute or imply any endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation of the content of any linked site. The Assembly does not monitor, control, or fund any linked site and is not responsible for its content. If the linked site solicits funds, this should not be construed to mean that the Member is soliciting funds for that site.

Cowley closed his piece with a triumphant note about how Republicans put in a link to the actual state-run health insurance exchange website:

Until this week, CoveringHealthCareCA.com got little public notice, but it came under withering attack after assembly members sent constituents a pamphlet promoting the site. “It is outrageous that Republican legislators in California are using taxpayer dollars to intentionally mislead their constituents, sow fear and confusion, and divert Californians away from CoveredCA,” the progressive Courage Campaign said in an online petition urging the legislators to take the site down.

That’s not likely to happen. Speaking to ABC News, the GOP assembly members’ communications director dismissed the criticism as “manufactured outrage on the Internet” and “an effort by the left” to distract attention from the “failed implementation” of Obamacare. Still, the outrage is making a difference. The decoy site was updated this week, and now includes a prominent link to the real one.

As I've demonstrated, the outrage is in fact "manufactured." Fortunately for Cowley, he has a loyal audience on the Web who's willing to buy what he's selling.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters