Truth, lies and health care

It’s not a mystery what was in the two bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act that Rep. Bruce Poliquin supported.

To know what the repeal bills included doesn’t require peering into the mists of time. No one has to try to decipher faded letters on stone tablets. This isn’t a matter of he said-he said.

You and I can look up the bills. We can read the reports by the Congressional Budget Office and review analyses by other respected organizations staffed by professional budget and policy analysts. There were news stories galore, breaking down the bills’ provisions, easily accessible to anyone who knows how to search the internet.

And these bills were considered just last year — in 2017.

State Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston (right), is challenging US Rep. Bruce Poliquin to represent the 2nd Congressional District. Micky Bedell | BDN; Robert F. Bukaty | AP

So what would repeal of the ACA have done? Spelling this out requires looking at some numbers but we should all keep in mind the very real human consequences involved.

Tens of millions of people would have lost health insurance coverage coverage, at least 23 million, per table 4 in a CBO report.

Medicaid would have been slashed, with 14 million people losing Medicaid coverage. As page 13 of that CBO report shows, Medicaid was cut a whopping $834 billion.

Older people could be charged five times more than younger people for insurance premiums, or even more. The AARP called this an “age tax.”

People with pre-existing conditions would be hurt.

Before the ACA, people who had cancer and other pre-existing conditions could have much higher premiums than people who didn’t have one yet. Price discrimination was banned by the ACA. But, as page 5 of the CBO report explained, under the repeal bill higher premiums could come back; then insurance markets would destabilize, raising prices for everyone and causing some who have insurance “under current law to be uninsured.”

What would that have meant for Mainers?

Analysts found that 116,000 Mainers would have lost coverage if the ACA repeal bills Poliquin voted for had been signed into law and more than half live in the 2nd Congressional District, which he represents.  

But when asked about health policy in a recent debate, Poliquin denied these realities. He claimed numbers cited by Jared Golden, his Democratic challenger, were false, saying he didn’t know where Golden got them.

Golden has receipts. He uses figures from official sources like the CBO and analysts using CBO data. In contrast, Poliquin has no sources, just assertions.

After Golden mentioned Poliquin voted for Medicare voucherization and Social Security privatization in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s budget plans, Poliquin falsely denied it.

The House GOP continues to pursue those policies. House Republicans’ Fiscal Year 2019 plan included cuts of over $2 trillion in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, along with harmful structural changes to Medicare like voucherization and raising Medicare’s eligibility age to 67. It included the ACA repeal bill that would cause 23 million to lose coverage.

Poliquin also reverted to name-calling, absurdly calling Golden, who enlisted in the Marines, worked for Republican Sen. Susan Collins on the Senate Homeland Security Committee and crafted bipartisan bills helping veterans and signed by Gov. Paul LePage, a “socialist” and a “radical.” Poliquin used “young” as an epithet although the last two Republicans who held the congressional seat — Olympia Snowe and Bill Cohen — were five or four years younger than Golden when they first won it.

Poliquin’s false health care claims, echoed around the country, have been repeatedly debunked.

After a North Dakota Senate candidate claimed the ACA repeal bills wouldn’t have created price discrimination for people with pre-existing conditions, a fact checker awarded the claim Three Pinocchios, because that was a “significant factual error.”  Poliquin and other candidates who voted to repeal pre-existing conditions protections keep talking about family members who have them while falsely claiming they fought for them.

As Collins explained when repeal was on the line, the GOP plans would have imposed “fundamental sweeping changes in the Medicaid program and those include very deep cuts. That would affect some of the most vulnerable in our society, including disabled children, poor seniors. It would affect our rural hospitals and nursing homes, and they would have a very difficult time even staying in existence.”

Ducking unpleasant realities might seem the best option for politicians who want to avoid accountability, but facts are stubborn things.

Moreover, although repeal supporters aren’t talking about it on the campaign trail, another ACA repeal will be pursued if elections go their way.

And given the need for integrity and honesty, voters deserve an honest debate about health policy, not serial name-calling and misinforming.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.