Monday, July 30, 2012

PolitiFact Article Dissects Governor’s Critique of the Affordable Care Act

Walker’s Op-ed Column in the Washington Post Generates a False Rating 

In a PolitiFact article in Sunday’s Journal Sentinel, Guy Boulton and Dave Umhoefer critique an op-ed column by Governor Walker in the July 12 Washington Post, in which he contended that that the federal health care reform law would “devastate” Wisconsin. His arguments draw a “false” rating because the Governor’s column: “cherry-picks data, leaves out critical facts and mischaracterizes some of the numbers, creating a highly misleading impression.”

The article does a very nice job of objectively exposing the ways in which four of the key factual assertions in the article are misleading or incorrect. However, it misses a couple of the key problems with one of those assertions, and it puts off addressing the inaccurate fiscal claims about the cost to Wisconsin of implementing the ACA. I look forward to learning what PolitiFact has to say on that subject, but I was already working on my own assessment of the claim that over the first six years of implementation the ACA would cost Wisconsin $433 million.

In a Wisconsin Budget Project Blog post yesterday, I explain that the figure in question comes from testimony that Secretary Smith presented in January 2011 to Congressman Ryan’s committee. The $433 million estimate is calculated without factoring in the core component of the Medicaid expansion – the enhanced federal funding for states that choose to close the gap in their Medicaid coverage. Although the Secretary’s testimony obliquely refers to the fact that Wisconsin could receive up to $1 billion from that enhanced federal funding (which could yield a large net gain for Wisconsin’s budget), no mention is made of that in the Governor’s op-ed.  What makes that omission particularly troublesome is that the Governor says the $433 million figure accounts for “all federal aid and tax credits.” 

The PolitiFact article partially debunks the perplexing argument in the op-ed that “Approximately 122,000 parents, caretakers and pregnant women with an income of more than 133 percent of the federal poverty level will no longer be eligible for Medicaid.”  However, two major problems with that assertion weren’t covered by the article.

The biggest problem with that particular claim in the op-ed is that it suggests that the law will set a cap on BadgerCare eligibility at 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL).  The ACA does nothing of the sort. In 2014, after the new Exchanges are in place to help low and middle income families purchase subsidized coverage, Wisconsin will have the choice of lowering the ceiling on BadgerCare eligibility of adults to 133% of FPL or maintaining its current eligibility caps. In addition, the state will have the option to use something called the Basic Health Plan as a way to cover adults up to 200% of the poverty level with a somewhat pared down Medicaid benefit, and federal funding should cover all or nearly all of the cost for that option for covering adults between 133% and 200% of FPL.

The other perplexing aspect of the 122,000 claim is that there aren’t anywhere close to that many adults in BadgerCare with family incomes over 133% of the poverty level (especially after changes the state put into place in July begin to suppress participation of adults in BadgerCare). The 122,000 figure appears to count children as well as parents, which is a significant error since the ACA requires states to maintain current eligibility levels for children until 2019.

I do agree with one of the initial points the Governor made in the op-ed, when he said that it’s important to look at the law’s practical effects in the states. I think that’s exactly what we need to do, but we need to get the facts right, and I applaud the Journal Sentinel for assisting in that regard by shedding light on some of the assertions and omissions in the op-ed column.

Over the coming weeks and months, WCCF will continue to try to facilitate an open and honest dialogue about the costs and the benefits of the ACA, so we can truly understand the law’s practical effects.

Jon Peacock

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