Week in Review: ‘Fact checker’ full of spin

Andy Matthews

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‘Fact checker’ full of spin

One of Groucho Marx’s best lines was this quip: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

That’s the thought that echoed through my head as I read Mark Robison’s recent “Fact checker” column in the Reno Gazette-Journal. Robison decided to examine a statement Lt. Gov. candidate and current state Sen. Mark Hutchison made about the so-called Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Obamacare.

During a debate with his opponent and current Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, Hutchison said, “Obamacare has not been right for Nevada. We’ve seen prices go up for the government, for patients who are insured.”

Government (a.k.a. taxpayer) costs have certainly gone up — from Nevada’s decision to expand Medicaid to ACA being projected to cost the federal government $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years.

But Robison didn’t look at that. Instead, he contacted the Hutchison campaign for details on the statement that prices have gone up for “patients who are insured.” Hutchison’s campaign pointed to an excellent study conducted by the Manhattan Institute that examined the price difference between the lowest-cost plans before ACA and after ACA’s mandates.

The Manhattan Institute found that premiums for the lowest-priced individual plans in Nevada had increased by a whopping 94 percent to 289 percent.

So it should be a simple decision for a fact checker, right? Premiums were lower before ACA, they’re higher after ACA, so therefore, pointing out that prices have gone up for “patients who are insured” is an accurate statement.

It should have been an easy call, but instead, Robison started spinning. He cites Jake Sunderland, a spokesman for the Nevada Division of Insurance, who claims it is “irresponsible” to compare pre- and post-ACA plans, because ACA mandates that plans cover so much more.

That’s not irresponsible. That’s the point Hutchison made. ACA required more expensive health plans, so premiums went up. You may think that’s a bad or good trade-off, but that’s for policymakers and political pundits to debate, not for a fact checker to label as true or false.

The rest of the column is filled with Robison’s attempts to spin, explain and justify why health insurance costs have increased, and he concludes with this laugher:

Hutchison's source for his claim isn't a horrible one, but it is limited in scope and outdated.

For the small percentage of people Hutchison was referring to who buy their own individual health coverage, the available data for 2014-to-2015 plan changes shows premiums to be generally increasing more slowly than they did before the ACA, in Nevada and across the country.

Truth Meter: 3 out of 10

So here Robison attempts to ignore the changes that took place from 2013 to 2014, which are most pertinent, because that’s when ACA’s mandates first took effect, and focus on just changes happening this year after premiums doubled, tripled or even quadrupled last year. Even in doing so, though, he admits that health insurance prices are going up, which is what Hutchison claimed in the first place.

Who are you going to believe, a spinning “fact checker” or your lying eyes?

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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