Flagrant foul on state GOP for printing phone number for Dem’s ailing mother

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts
Who:Michigan Republican Party
What:Campaign flyer in 61st state House race
The call:Flagrant Foul

Relevant text of the ad:

“Obamacare and John Fisher could leave us bedridden. 225,000 Michiganders lost their insurance policies as a result of Obamacare. 246,000 residents will be paying even more for their insurance policies. Some businesses are struggling to meet the rising costs. Women are losing their doctors, paying increased premiums and waiting longer for important diagnostic treatments. Call John Fisher at 269-XXX-XXX. [Bridge redacted actual number] Tell him hard-working Michiganders are being hurt by Obamacare and the health care policies they support.”

Kalamazoo County pastor John Fisher, a Democrat, is running against GOP Kalamazoo County Commissioner Brandt Iden in the 61st District state House race to replace Republican state Rep. Margaret O'Brien. Most campaign ads draw attention for their political assertions. This flyer is getting notice for a phone number.

Statements under review:

“Call John Fisher at 269-XXX-XXXX. [Number omitted by Truth Squad] Tell him hard-working Michiganders are being hurt by Obamacare and the health policies they support.”

The flyer directs recipients to dial a private number that actually rings at the bedside of Fisher's 91-year-old mother, Isabel Kramb, who is under hospice care in a Portage nursing home. Fisher said his mother has been there about a year after spending two months in a hospice facility. She has congestive heart failure, heart arrhythmia and can be confused at times. He said he was required by nursing home policy to pay for a separate, private number for his mother if she were to have phone service in her room. That number (which matches the number on the flyer) is in his name.

Fisher said he has “no idea” how the GOP obtained the number or why the GOP put it on the flyer. He added that his mother is confused by the strange calls coming into her room. Fisher asserts that the GOP should have checked where that number connected before publishing it. “It shows the height of irresponsibility,” he said.

Iden, Fisher’s Republican opponent, told Mlive he had nothing to do with the flyer. “Obviously, as you know, it was not sent out by our campaign. I don't condone negative campaign tactics and it's not something my campaign has done or anticipates doing.”

Darren Littell, spokesman for the state GOP, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. It is unclear whether the GOP knew the number went to Fisher’s mother, or whether it took steps to call the number before including it on the flyer. It’s also unclear what steps, if any, state Republicans have taken since Fisher’s complaints to discourage calls to the nursing home.

“225,000 Michiganders lost their insurance policies as a result of Obamacare."

The statement refers to an Associated Press Report in November that stated 225,000 state residents “could be subject to having their policies discontinued.” The calculation was attributed to the state insurance department. A week later, state officials announced that health insurers would be allowed to reinstate canceled policies. It is unknown how many residents actually had policies canceled.For context, it is worth noting more than 272,000 Michigan residents enrolled in the individual marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Nearly nine in 10 received financial assistance in the form of tax credits in buying a plan. More than 400,000 had enrolled in Medicaid expansion for low-income residents as of Sept. 29.

“246,000 residents will be paying even more for their insurance policies.”

In June, the state Department of Insurance and Financial Services announced that 18 health care insurers participating in the individual market in Michigan were requesting premium increases for nearly 246,000 Michigan residents. Blue Care Network and Blue Cross Blue Shield, which insures about three-fourths of that total, planned increases of about 9 percent. The statement leaves out that private insurers raised premiums for their clients prior to passage of the ACA. A national analysis released in June said that premiums increased by 10 percent a year in the three years before the ACA was enacted. The statement also omits that subscribers with lower income levels receive substantial tax credits to offset the cost of their premium.

“Some businesses are struggling to meet the rising costs.”

A report in February by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that 65 percent of small firms that offer health insurance would incur higher premium costs this year under the ACA and 35 percent would have lower premiums. An analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research organization, said that before the ACA the cost of health care premiums could vary according to the health of employees. Under the ACA, insurers can't charge different premiums based on health status, gender and health care usage. Firms with fewer than 50 workers are not required to offer health insurance under the ACA.

“Women are losing their doctors, paying increased premiums and waiting longer for important diagnostic treatments.”

According to 2013 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 1 million women gained health insurance because of the ACA's extension of dependent coverage through age 26 in the private sector. It estimated that 13 million more uninsured women would gain coverage by 2016 as a result of the law's coverage expansion.

Under a provision that went into effect in August 2012, an estimated 47 million women would gain free access to preventive services that include approved contraceptive methods, gestinational diabetes screening, HPV testing, HIV screening and counseling for sexually transmitted infections. The law also provides free services for women including mammograms every one to two years for women over 40, cervical cancer screenings and prenatal care.

The call:Flagrant Foul

Much of this campaign flyer is a standard boilerplate assault on the ACA. The flyer does not substantiate its claim that 225,000 state residents lost insurance because of the ACA. In fact, more than 400,000 residents gained insurance because of Medicaid expansion and another 272,000 signed up for insurance under the individual marketplace. It is true that insurers in the individual marketplace are raising rates for 2015. But the ACA provides tax credits that can substantially lower the cost of insurance for those at the lower end of the income scale. Some businesses that offer health insurance are expected to incur higher premium rates. The assertion that women are losing doctors, paying more and waiting longer for treatments is not documented. To the contrary, the ACA expands coverage and health screenings for millions of women.

All that is enough to deserve a Foul.

Then there is the line urging the public to call Fisher, when in fact the number is for his 91-year-old mother in a nursing home. Ordinarily, we reserve Flagrant Fouls for false statements about a candidate’s “position or a fact involving policy.” This is, technically, neither. Critics may carp that Truth Squad should have anticipated that a political party would publish the number of a hospice patient who is not running for office. Color us naive. We are giving a Flagrant Foul, anyway.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Wed, 10/08/2014 - 10:11am
Of course they knew the number went to Fisher's mother! Why else would they have used the phrase "Leave us bedridden" in the headline. Too much of a coincidence on word choice. They knew darn well what they were doing and that is just wrong in every sense!
Mike R
Wed, 10/08/2014 - 10:28am
I hope the candidate and/or his mother's guardian seriously consider an invasion of privacy or intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuit against the Jase Bolger-esque criminals in the Michigan GOP.
Wed, 10/08/2014 - 11:05am
Beyond the incorrect information the Michigan Republican Party has published on this mailer regarding 'Obamacare' and the unbelievable audacity or stupidity of publishing the democratic candidates bedside phone in hospice it still does not connect John Fisher with having anything to do with Obamacare. Because a democratic president was able to pass healthcare does not mean that every person running for public office as a democrat had anything to do with the passage of the ACA. The republican party is putting this same mailer out in the state in many close house races. They are just changing the name to whomever the democratic candidate is in the district and the phone number. For the love of Mike - just how gullible are voters?
Sue Martens
Wed, 10/08/2014 - 11:35am
His campaign's denial, blaming it on the party, is no excuse. He could easily tell the party leaders that he does not condone that sort of behavior and demand they cease and desist. I hope the R's strategy backfires.
Joseph Haas
Wed, 10/08/2014 - 4:13pm
First and foremost, the phone number that was posted was a phone number listed in FISHER's name, not his mother's. You sight no evidence that anybody knew the phone number was for Fisher's mother. The fact that MRP did not verify the listed phone number was Fisher's home number, or double check what the number was for, was certainly sloppy and incompetent (and inexcusable), but to leap to the conclusion that listing the phone number was intentional is equally ridiculous. As to the comments posted to date, if anybody thinks that the use of identical mailers supporting different candidates is unique to the GOP, or that candidates have total control over materials sent out by political parties and political action committees, then I would suggest they look in the mirror to find the gullible voters. I will close by stating that I have been a huge supporter of The Bridge and The Truth Squad as a source where we would truly get an unbiased, impartial view on issues and campaigns in our State. After reading this article, I now have to question whether The Bridge is just another Fox News and MSNBC. That is a shame and where the true FOUL is.
Wed, 10/08/2014 - 6:28pm
So the complete BS about the impact of the Affordable Care Act is OK? and mom's phone number was just an accident? Riiiiiight. Go back to Limbaughland.
Wed, 10/08/2014 - 7:51pm
i got one of those very flyers just this past saturday and it is his mothers number, and it showed up in her name when i put it in the search engine.