Distortions on health-care claims earn fouls on both sides

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The retirement of U.S. Rep Dave Camp set up a battle between two conservatives in Tuesday’s Republican primary in the 4th Congressional District, with the winner favored to win election in November. State Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and Paul Mitchell, from near Saginaw and former CEO of Ross Education (now Ross Medical Education Center), are vying for the Republican nomination in the district that covers a huge swath of the central Lower Peninsula, from the southern edge of Clinton County north of Cadillac.

Who:Paul Mitchell for Congress
What:“Sen. Moolenaar supports Obamacare” TV ad
The call:Regular foul

Relevant text:

“Senator Moolenaar voted to create the Michigan Obamacare Medicaid exchange, and led efforts to pass the budget that expanded Medicaid and funded Obamacare, driving insurance premiums up and costing taxpayers more than $1billion this year.”

As a member of the Michigan House in 2011, Moolenaar voted against creating a Medicaid exchange. Mitchell makes the claim Moolenaar voted to "create" the exchange based on Moolenaar's vote to approve a supplemental budget bill that included $9.8 million from a federal grant to help fund the exchange. Budget bills often include numerous items, and legislators don't have the option to cast yes votes on some items and no votes on others.

In 2014, as a member of the Senate, Moolenaar voted for a Department of Community Health budget that included the use of federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare.

That expansion did amount to about $1 billion. But the ad leaves the clear impression that Medicaid expansion, which increased the number of Michigan families eligible for health care through the government, is costing Michigan taxpayers; instead, the program’s expansion is covered by federal dollars that pass through state agencies. The vote to approve the Community Health budget, and later the overall budget, did not “fund Obamacare.” The Affordable Care Act is a national program. Rather, budget votes taken in Michigan allowed the Medicaid expansion element of Obamacare to be made available to Michigan residents.

The call:Regular Foul

Voting for budgets that included Medicaid expansion could be construed as support for the Affordable Care Act, but Sen. Moolenaar’s votes (or, for that matter, the votes of any Michigan legislator) did not “fund Obamacare.” Most problematic, the ad gives voters the impression that Michigan taxpayers are on the hook for $1 billion for Medicaid expansion in the state.

Who:John Moolenaar for Congress
What:“Paul Mitchell: Lying to Cover It Up” TV ad
The call:Regular foul

Relevant text:

“Mitchell gave big bucks to liberal Debbie Stabenow, the deciding vote to create Obamacare. Then Mitchell took 100 grand from Obama’s stimulus. Paul Mitchell, lining his pockets with Obama stimulus.”

The ad shows a check written out to “Liberal Debbie Stabenow” for $500. While it’s doubtful the check was written in that way, it is true that Mitchell contributed $250 to Stabenow in May 2005 and $250 in June, 2006, according to Federal Elections Commission records.

The ad claims Stabenow was the “deciding vote to create Obamacare.” The Senate voted 60-39 to close debate on the Affordable Care Act. Sixty votes were needed to avoid a Republican filibuster of the bill. Stabenow, and all 57 other Democrat senators and two independent senators, voted to end debate. The same 60 senators then voted to pass what some now call Obamacare, but only 50 votes would have been needed (Vice President Joe Biden would have cast a vote to break the tie).

So, while 10 more senators voted for the bill than needed for it to pass, it’s also true that the bill needed the support of 60 senators to avoid a filibuster. In that sense, Stabenow was the deciding vote on Obamacare in the same way that 59 other senators were the deciding vote.

The ad claims Mitchell “took 100 grand from Obama’s stimulus,” and that Mitchell was “lining his pockets with Obama stimulus.”

The claim refers to displaced workers receiving tuition support to go back to school to further their education or learn a new skill. Students at Ross Education, a medical professional training school where Mitchell was CEO, received $93,418 in tuition support through the program. Schools such as Grand Valley State University, Baker College and Macomb Community College are among other schools where displaced workers received tuition support.

The tuition support was offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal stimulus passed in the depths of the recession.

The call:Regular Foul

Students at Mitchell’s school did receive some tuition support as part of the federal stimulus program. But to claim that Mitchell was “lining his pockets” with federal dollars (a phrase defined as obtaining money in an unfair or dishonest way) because displaced workers were getting help with retraining is a mischaracterization.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Thu, 07/31/2014 - 10:48am
Too bad the comic show ends with the primary. Both candidates are a joke on us the voters appealing to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately for us, after the November election the joke is on us.
Ron Dwyer
Thu, 07/31/2014 - 6:09pm
Vote Peter Konetchy. The only true conservative in the race.
Thu, 07/31/2014 - 10:55am
Ross Medical Centers are for-profit "schools" that provide certificates, not degrees, in a variety of programs that are also offered at community colleges for a lot less. The current cost of a Ross Medical Center certificate is about $15,000 and should the graduate want to pursue a degree, the credits earned DO NOT transfer since to full-accredited colleges, since Ross Medical Center is only "accredited" by a trade association of for-profit schools. Since the student debt is growing... at an alarming rate... and the pay one can receive for getting a "certificate" from Ross Medical Center is often slightly more than minimum wage, and not enough to live on and pay back the loan, I think "lining his pockets" might be an apt description. Just my 2 cents.
blue collar liberal
Sun, 08/03/2014 - 10:23am
As a registered Democrat, I have no horse in this race. BUT, it is refreshing to see all this rhetoric in its proper context so that my Republican friends can make an informed decision..