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Steve Rockwell’s Five False Claims About Medicaid Expansion

Updated: Apr 13


We learned something important about Senate District 21 candidate Steve Rockwell during his debate performance the other day: Rockwell believes the “private option” is the answer to just about every policy question facing Arkansas.

I want to examine a few things Rockwell said about the PO — which he made a central theme of the debate — but as a matter of context, it’s important to keep in mind that these weren’t off-the-cuff answers that can be blamed on short response time or absence of mind. These were written statements that Rockwell read word-for-word.

1. On abortion, Rockwell said, “It’s not very pro-life to eliminate the ‘private option’ which is going to save 1,000 lives per year. It’s not very pro-life to deny health care coverage which will improve the quality of life and potentially save their life.”

The problem with this theory is that there’s no scientific evidence for it. Everyone interested in America’s healthcare system needs to familiarize themselves with the Oregon Medicaid study which is the best possible source of information about the actual results of Medicaid. The study found that Medicaid recipients, after two years, showed no measurable physical health improvements. This makes it difficult for me to imagine how Medicaid is going to “save 1,000 lives” in Arkansas. Interestingly, we were originally told by Democratic leaders that Medicaid expansion would save 2,800 lives. I suppose they’re now adjusting those predictions down?

2. On taxes, Rockwell said, “Small businesses do not need to face a $38 million burden moving this state forward. That’s not gonna help our economy. That’s not going to help our small businesses. Not passing that private option means we incur a $38 million per year penalty on our small businesses.”

This claim is flatly untrue: on July 2nd of 2013, President Obama delayed the employer mandate. That mandate and the cost it thrust onto Arkansas employers was the source of the “$38 million penalty” that Rockwell cites. But that argument is now null and void: the mandate is gone, until next year at least, and many policy experts think it will be delayed again. Despite Rockwell’s claim on Friday that Obamacare “is here, it’s law, it’s sticking,” Obamacare isn’t fully here and it may never be here in its entirety. Anyone who’s not learning about Obamacare from talking points knows that Obamacare is a moving target that changes weekly. According to Rockwell’s logic then, we are supposed to spend roughly $200 million per year on new Medicaid recipients so businesses can possibly, perhaps save $38 million in healthcare penalties someday.

3. On jobs: “We don’t need to do anything to throw the economic engine of northeast Arkansas in reverse. we need to keep moving forward and the way we keep moving forward is we vote for the private option and make sure that we retain our jobs, that we save 1,000 lives, that we relieve $340 in uncompensated care, and we relieve our businesses from a $38 million tax burden.”

The claim that Medicaid expansion will create economic growth is also patently false because the (Keynesian) economic boom we were promised under the “private option” isn’t coming, according to the state’s own estimates.

4. On uncompensated care: “In 2010, Arkansas paid nearly $340 million for unpaid medicaid bills. This will decrease substantially with the private option.”

This claim is also untrue, if the results in other states are any indication. In fact, on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported on more study results out of Oregon that show folks with Medicaid are 40% more likely to visit the ER (the source of uncompensated care). To put it simply: uncompensated care costs have gone up in states that have expanded Medicaid. (And before you dismiss this is as some right-wing conspiracy, note that the study was conducted by Harvard and CBS did a great report on it as well.)

5. On federal spending: “Voting no on the private option means that Arkansans will have to freeze rates on Medicaid providers and send tax dollars to California and Massachusetts.”

I’m not sure what Rockwell means by “freezing rates on Medicaid providers.” Perhaps his sheet of talking points knows more about Medicaid than I do. But his assertion that tax dollars will be sent to other states is another tired, false claim by supporters of Medicaid expansion. In reality, money that’s not spent on Medicaid in Arkansas will be money that stays in the federal treasury and is not added to the national debt. As Rockwell’s opponent, John Cooper, explained during the debate, “Anyone who knows how government budgeting works” knows that these Rockwell claims are false. In his concluding remarks, Rockwell called it “a very highly commendable piece of legislation on everybody’s part to get that done.” He also directly challenged Cooper on ending the PO:

What do you say to these people, Mr. Cooper? Charity can’t keep up with the demand of 250,000 people without access to quality healthcare.

These comments, while incredibly offensive to me, aren’t incredibly surprising when you consider that Mr. Rockwell has long-espoused the philosophy of wealth redistribution. According to that ideology, the state is the only mechanism that’s able to take care of the poor. His comments here show just how intensely he’s has been captured by the ideology of government’s power to solve problems and the disdain he has for private charity. I hold a different view: I believe in the power of private charity and have studied government long enough to know that creates more problems than it solves — like, for instance, creating higher uncompensated care costs when it says its reducing them, spending $200 million to prevent a nonexistent $38 million penalty, and wasting billions of dollars on programs that don’t improve physical health outcomes. I respect those who hold philosophies different than mine; but when those philosophies are reduced to talking points read off a sheet of paper during a live debate, and those talking points are in flat contradiction with reality, my respect for such views is significantly diminished.

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