May 10th Town Hall Fact Check

By DAVE WILLIAMS
Indivisible NJ 3rd District

Congressman Tom MacArthur’s town hall meeting May 10 in Willingboro generated far more heat than light, but the congressman did make a small number of fact claims that can use some clarification and/or correction.

Nearly all of the discussion centered around the AHCA bill MacArthur helped pass with the so-called MacArthur Amendment, which would allow states to opt out of some regulations designed to ensure affordable coverage for all.

The few other topics mentioned (foreclosures, funding for historically black colleges, the Merrick Garland nomination, a few others) only produced non-committal statements from MacArthur, nothing really in need of fact-checking.

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

MacArthur made a couple of statements defending his continuing unwillingness to call for additional investigations of Russian interference with our election and Trump’s possible collusion:

“We have 3 independent groups investigating (Trump/Russia).”

Presumably MacArthur is referring to the investigations by the House and Senate intelligence committees and the FBI. Those groups are indeed independent of each other, but given Republican domination of both houses and the White House (head of the Executive Branch, which includes the FBI), calling them “independent” is a bit disingenuous.

“Investigation is continuing in a bipartisan manner,” he said (to jeers from the audience). “The senate chair and the ranking member have declared that they’re working together.”

This is technically true. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting an investigation, is made up of members of both parties (8 Republicans, 7 Democrats), and the Republican chair and Democratic vice-chair (the “ranking member”) have been issuing joint statements (incluidng this one about the investigation being bipartisan: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/29/senate-investigation-russia-trump-election) and generally working together. However, most votes are decided by a simple majority, so the 8 GOP senators could stall any action simply by voting as a bloc.

It’s also perhaps worth noting that MacArthur mentioned the Senate investigation, but not the investigation of his own chamber, the House of Representatives. That investigation is much more contentious, with committee chair Devin Nunes under fire for, among other things, going to Trump with his findings before reporting to his own committee.

HEALTH CARE

MacArthur made several claims related to AHCA and the status quo under ACA (“Obamacare”). He often couched his comments in terms of what he himself believes (e.g. “I don’t believe this bill raises rates” or similar wording), and there’s no way to prove or disprove whether he really does believe his statements.

Here are some concrete statements he made:

“If you work for a company with more than 50 people, that (AHCA) is a non-issue.”

False. Under Obamacare, essential health benefits could not be limited by any states, so employees were covered no matter what state they lived in (or what state their employer chose to declare as their location). The new AHCA bill (thanks to the MacArthur Amendment designed to win over hard-right “Freedom Caucus” members) allows states to waive out of those requirements, and still allows multi-state companies to choose which state they want to declare themselves affiliated with. This could create new caps on lifetime allowances for insurance benefits even for people with employer-provided health insurance. (source: http://www.businessinsider.com/gop-healthcare-bill-ahca-employer-insurance-2017-5)

“If you stay insured, by law no insurer can ever rate you different … it’s only if you have a gap in coverage.”

This is true. The main issues with AHCA and the MacArthur Amendment center around people who have had a coverage gap (defined as 63 days over the past 12 months without coverage). These are the people who could be denied or priced out of coverage for pre-existing conditions. (source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/26/upshot/what-changed-in-the-health-repeal-plan-to-win-over-the-freedom-caucus.html)

“We set aside 138 billion dollars for that specific group of people (with gaps in coverage).”

That much is true. The bill sets aside $138 billion over 10 years for people with gaps in coverage. It is widely believed that the amount is unlikely to provide adequate coverage. (Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/05/how-the-gop-health-bill-affects-sick-people/525477/)

“I am watching an insurance market that is collapsing”

This is false. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) continues to estimate that Obamacare is expected to produce a stable insurance market. (source: http://www.businessinsider.com/cbo-report-insurance-market-death-spiral-obamacare-trump-2017-3)

“The Medicaid help you’ve gotten, nothing in this bill is cutting that.”

Cutting, no. Capping, yes. The bill would replace existing Medicaid with block grants to the states, with increases based on previous trends, rather than adjusting for unanticipated future needs (http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/republicans-obamacare-replacement-jeopardizes-medicaid-article-1.2991212).

In addition, MacArthur himself acknowledged that the intent is to reduce Medicaid spending. He said the bill “puts pressure on the states to do tort reform, to do fee-for-service reform.”

“Today, about 25% of the US population is on Medicaid.”

Close. It’s about 22% (73 million out of 326.5 million: https://www.statista.com/statistics/245347/total-medicaid-enrollment-since-1966). The Medicaid rolls have expanded since Obamacare began, since Medicaid expansion is one of the mechanisms it uses to provide increased coverage. MacArthur seemed to be suggesting that this is a problem that needs to be “solved” by capping Medicaid grants to states so they can enact the “reforms” mentioned above.