The Los Angeles Times is refusing to correct an error-ridden column by disgraced columnist Michael Hiltzik regarding changes to Ohio’s Medicaid program by Gov. John Kasich. Rather than admit error and correct the record, Los Angeles Times reader representative Deirdre Edgar responded to a formal request for correction by asserting that “disagreement does not warrant correction,” a peculiar standard when the issue is whether facts were accurately reported by the newspaper.
At issue is the charge by Hiltzik that Ben Domenech, The Federalist‘s publisher, lied when he noted on Face The Nation on June 25 that Kasich “ended up having to throw 34,000 disabled people off the [Medicaid] program” in order to make room for able-bodied adults who were made eligible through Kasich’s Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Domenech’s claim was based on budget estimates provided by Kasich’s own administration and confirmed by multiple independent policy experts. The Wall Street Journal investigated the claim by Domenech and found it to be completely accurate.
“Sure enough, in 2015 Ohio redesigned its disability determination system to remove some 34,000 people from the safety-net rolls,” the paper noted in early July.
But unfortunately for readers of the Los Angeles Times, actual facts are subordinate to the extreme left-wing political agenda of the paper’s most ethically challenged columnist.
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) July 5, 2017
No stranger to garbage activism masquerading as journalism, Hiltzik has a long history of deliberately deceiving his readers, his employers, and even his fellow journalists. Deliberate deception is pretty much Hiltzik’s stock in trade. In 2006, Hiltzik was suspended after being busted for “sockpuppeting,” the practice of posting comments to news stories under a fake name. Prior to that, Hiltzik was busted for hacking into the e-mail accounts of other journalists. Here’s how the New York Times covered news of Hiltzik’s hacking at the time:
Correspondents in The Times Moscow bureau became suspicious when they discovered that their passwords had been entered into the computer system at times when they had not been using the computer, journalists close to the bureau said. The newspaper’s computer system keeps a record of each time an employee uses his password to log onto the system.
In the paper’s sting operation, two electronic messages containing false information were sent from a correspondent in The Times’s Jerusalem bureau to a correspondent in the Moscow bureau. Mr. Hiltzik intercepted those messages and later inquired verbally about their content at the Moscow bureau, the journalists said.
It could not be learned exactly how Mr. Hiltzik obtained the passwords necessary for him to gain access to his colleagues’ electronic mail. It is also uncertain what position Mr. Hiltzik will take when he returns to Los Angeles early next year.
“We were extremely upset,” a journalist who was hacked by Hiltzik told the Washington Post. “It was an incredible invasion of privacy. There were a lot of personal e-mails in there.”
In 2015, during the heat of the Republican presidential primary, Hiltzik also attacked Carly Fiorina, a cancer survivor, for having the audacity to note on the campaign trail that she had survived cancer.
The refusal of the Los Angeles Times to do the right thing and correct Hiltzik’s myriad errors is disappointing, but not surprising. After Hiltzik hacked the e-mail accounts of other journalists, the paper kept him on the payroll. After he repeatedly and deliberately created and used fake identities to comment on his own articles and anonymously attack his detractors, the paper kept him on the payroll. The Los Angeles Times has made abundantly clear that when it comes to Hiltzik, a sockpuppet and e-mail hacker who viciously attacked a woman for speaking openly about her battle with cancer, there is simply no behavior it won’t tolerate.
The full text of the letter The Federalist sent to the Los Angeles Times requesting a retraction of Hiltzik’s false article and the official Los Angeles Times response to the formal request are reprinted below.
July 5, 2017
To Whom It May Concern:
I write to request a formal public retraction of Michael Hiltzik’s June 26 column for the Los Angeles Times, entitled “Here’s how a bogus claim on Medicaid made it onto CBS, with no pushback.” The premise of Mr. Hiltzik’s column, that Ben Domenech made a false claim about the effects of changes to Ohio’s Medicaid program, is itself demonstrably false.
On June 25, Mr. Domenech stated on the Face The Nation program on CBS that Ohio Gov. John Kasich “ended up having to throw 34,000 disabled people off of the program because it incentivized adding these working, able-bodied adults over people who actually were in the system who had disabilities or had other dependence.” Rather than being “bogus” or “highly misleading,” as Mr. Hiltzik charged, Mr. Domenech’s claim is supported by voluminous evidence, including multiple statements and estimates from Gov. Kasich’s own administration.
As part of its expansion of the state’s Medicaid program pursuant to the federal Affordable Care Act, the Kasich administration in 2016 changed the Medicaid eligibility requirements for what is known as the Aged, Blind, and Disabled population, or ABD. Prior to those changes, certain members of the ABD population in Ohio could qualify for Medicaid if their monthly income was less than $634 (64 percent of the federal poverty limit) in at least one month during the year through what was known as spend-down eligibility. The changes enacted by Gov. Kasich increased the spend-down income threshold to $743/month (75 percent of the federal poverty limit).
According to the Kasich administration’s own estimates, those changes meant that over 34,000 individuals who were eligible for Medicaid under the old spend-down requirements would no longer qualify for Medicaid under the new requirements, which increased the income eligibility threshold by nearly 20 percent. In a separate document, the Kasich administration estimated that tens of thousands of previously eligible Medicaid recipients “will no longer qualify for Medicaid because their income is too high” under the new standards enacted by Gov. Kasich. While the Kasich administration planned to transition those members of the ABD population from 209(b) Medicaid coverage to section 1634 Medicaid coverage in 2016, the new eligibility requirements would take force in 2017, instantly putting Medicaid coverage at risk for tens of thousands of disabled individuals.
Independent health policy experts came to the same conclusion as the Kasich administration. Beth Kowalczyk, the chief policy officer for the Ohio Association of Area Agency on Aging, stated that under the Medicaid changes enacted by Gov. Kasich, “Many individuals who are currently using spenddown for Medicaid eligibility will simply lose Medicaid and will have to seek coverage on the federal health exchange.” The Ohio Health Care Association similarly noted that Ohio would see significant budget savings as a result of increasing Medicaid eligibility requirements for the state’s disabled population.
“Significant savings come from removing 34,050 spend-down beneficiaries in the community from Medicaid coverage and shifting them to other coverage not paid by the state,” the organization noted in a detailed PowerPoint presentation explaining the changes to the state’s Medicaid program.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hiltzik chose to ignore this evidence in his fact-free broadside against Mr. Domenech’s factually accurate claim. Instead, Mr. Hiltzik rejected the evidence simply because he was unaware of it.
“Throwing 34,000 disabled people off Medicaid would be hard to do without creating a major fuss, yet we’d never heard anything about it,” Mr. Hiltzik wrote.
This is an odd journalistic standard for evaluating the factual basis of a claim. Rather than fabricating figures from thin air, Mr. Domenech repeated the estimates and conclusions about a change to Ohio’s Medicaid program that had been publicly offered by the government administrators of that very program and corroborated by multiple outside experts. Not only were tens of thousands of disabled individuals no longer eligible for Medicaid in Ohio due entirely to policy changes enacted by Gov. Kasich, they were made ineligible by design in order to eliminate costs previously paid for by the state of Ohio. White papers from Gov. Kasich’s administration make clear that the very purpose of the new requirements was to force disabled individuals to seek health coverage outside of the state-funded Medicaid system.
After claiming that Mr. Domenech’s claim must be false because Mr. Hiltzik was unfamiliar with the information, Mr. Hiltzik then attempted to refute Mr. Domenech’s claim of coverage changes in 2017 by citing data from 2015. In his column, Mr. Hiltzik cited a quote from an official about disability caseload in 2015-2016 as proof that Mr. Domenech was lying about policy effects in 2017. Had Mr. Hiltzik reviewed the evidence provided by Mr. Domenech, he would have known that the eligibility changes enacted in 2016 would not take effect until January of 2017. Mr. Domenech made no claims about disability caseload in 2015, an entirely different metric than the number of people currently eligible for the program. Instead of reviewing the relevant facts, Mr. Hiltzik instead parroted irrelevant ones in his attempt to prove that Mr. Domenech’s claim was “bogus.”
The most problematic aspect of Mr. Hiltzik’s column however, is the fact that he actually admitted that Mr. Domenech’s claim was 100 percent accurate.
“As part of its transition, Ohio eliminated the “spend down” program, Mr. Hiltzik wrote. “About 34,000 people who might have qualified under spend-down now wouldn’t qualify for Medicaid.”
However, in a transparent attempt to wave away the factual accuracy of Mr. Domenech’s sole claim, Mr. Hiltzik then moved the goalposts and claimed, “But that doesn’t mean they were left uncovered.” But Mr. Domenech made no claims about source of coverage. His sole claim was that Medicaid eligibility changes enacted by Gov. Kasich would disqualify 34,000 individuals from participating in the program.
After spending paragraph after paragraph smearing Mr. Domenech for offering a “bogus” and “highly misleading” claim about the effects of Gov. Kasich’s changes to Ohio’s Medicaid program, Mr. Hiltzik admitted that Mr. Domenech’s claim, which came directly from estimates provided by Gov. Kasich’s own administration, was entirely accurate.
The Los Angeles Times has a long tradition of enforcing rigorous journalistic standards in its reporting on matters of public policy. Mr. Hiltzik’s column and the myriad charges levied within it do not meet the typically high journalist standards of the Los Angeles Times. As a result, I look forward to a full, formal retraction of Mr. Hiltzik’s June 26 column. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail if you have any questions about this official request for a retraction.
Thank you for writing. We understand that The Federalist disagrees with Michael Hiltzik’s opinion column, but disagreement does not warrant a correction. However, the Op-Ed staff may consider your submission for a Blowback piece. More info is here: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/readersreact/la-op-blowback-about-story.html