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How A Bogus Claim About Medicaid Made It Into The Los Angeles Times With No Pushback


It seems that even Pulitzer Prize-winning columnists can get away without fact-checking these days. Or such is the impression after reading Michael Hiltzik’s June 26 column in the Los Angeles Times.

Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on June 25 to discuss congressional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. Domenech noted that after Ohio expanded Medicaid to more than 725,000 able-bodied adults under Obamacare, it rolled back eligibility for some 34,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities as a cost-cutting measure.

Hiltzik apparently found these facts inconvenient and spent the better part of his 1,500-word column trying to factcheck them. His conclusion? “No disabled persons were ‘thrown off’ Medicaid.” But Hiltzik is wrong. The reality: Ohio eliminated an entire eligibility category for more than 34,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Here’s how the Ohio Office of Health Transformation described the change: “There will be some individuals who could have qualified for Medicaid under spend down who now do not qualify based on the new 1634 eligibility criteria.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s fiscal year 2016 budget initially explained that “22,000 disabled Ohioans not in institutions or on HCBS waivers will no longer qualify for Medicaid.” The Ohio Office of Health Transformation increased those estimates to 34,050 individuals, based on information in the Client Registry Information System.

It Doesn’t Exist If I Haven’t Heard of It

So how did Hiltzik reach his conclusion? He claimed that making such a change “would be hard to do without creating a major fuss.” Because he had “never heard anything about it,” he concluded it must be bogus. But if Hiltzik hasn’t heard of the changes, it’s only because he hasn’t been paying attention. The Columbus Dispatch warned that “thousands of needy residents will be left without a safety net” under the policy change.

He attempted to bolster his assertion by claiming that disability advocates never saw these effects and that Ohio officials admit it never happened. But here’s how Beth Kowalczyk, chief policy officer of the Ohio Association of Area Agency on Aging, described the changes: “Many individuals who are currently using spenddown for Medicaid eligibility will simply lose Medicaid.”

The Ohio Health Care Association, the Ohio Centers for Assisted Living, and the Ohio Centers for Intellectual Disabilities explained that “significant savings come from removing 34,050 spend-down beneficiaries in the community from Medicaid coverage.” UHCAN Ohio warned that tens of thousands of “vulnerable, low income Ohioans will be terminated from health coverage under the Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) Medicaid program.” Even the Kasich administration admits those individuals “will no longer qualify for Medicaid.”

Expanding Subsidies Disadvantages the Neediest

While Ohio eliminated Medicaid eligibility for more than 34,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities, it was busy moving able-bodied adults to the front of the line under Obamacare. The expansion has been particularly tough on Ohio, where the Kasich administration promised the number of able-bodied enrollees would never exceed 447,000. By May 2017, expansion enrollment topped more than 725,000 individuals.

The result? Ohio’s Obamacare expansion has already run nearly $7 billion over budget, costing taxpayers nearly twice what was initially promised. The state’s share of those costs started coming due earlier this year, and those overruns are now crowding out funding for other state priorities like education, public safety, and services for the most vulnerable. In a state where Medicaid already consumes nearly half of the operating budget, cost overruns in the Obamacare expansion can easily lead to devastating cuts to other priorities.

This isn’t an isolated event, either. The enrollment explosion is happening in every state that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. As a result, states are facing mounting costs far higher than they expected, forcing them to cut funding for other priorities or pass new tax hikes. Domenech was right when he remarked that Obamacare made able-bodied adults a top priority, crowding out funding for the most vulnerable. And he wasn’t lying when he said that more than 34,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities in Ohio were pushed out of Medicaid shortly after the expansion went into effect.

Expanding Medicaid Is a Crap Deal

Thankfully, the Ohio legislature has proposed a simple solution to refocus the program on the truly needy: freeze the program to new applicants. Under this proposal, everyone currently on the program would remain eligible until their circumstances improve and their incomes rise. But starting in July 2018, the state would stop taking new applicants for able-bodied adults applying for Obamacare expansion. This is a common-sense, politically popular solution to unwinding expansion and making the most vulnerable a top priority once again.

These are the same facts available to Hiltzik when he was writing his column, but he chose to ignore them. If this is the best “fact checkers” can do, it’s no wonder that only 29 percent of voters trust them. But ultimately there are bigger problems here than simply lack of journalistic fact-checking standards.

Ohio moved more than 725,000 able-bodied, working-age adults to the front of the line by expanding Obamacare. The expansion has cost taxpayers billions more than promised, crowding out funds for other priorities. And every dollar spent on those able-bodied adults is a dollar that can’t be spent on the truly needy.

It’s no wonder that Ohio dumped 34,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities off its Medicaid program. That’s exactly the incentive Obamacare puts in place. Policymakers in Columbus and Washington DC must come together to freeze enrollment in the expansion and make the truly needy a priority once again.