Talking about stealing the health care of millions of Americans sure can whip up an appetite — just ask U.S. Sen. James Lankford.
Earlier this week, the senator dined with President Donald Trump and other Senate Republicans, enjoying a menu of rosemary-grilled ribeye, fine wine and peach cobbler, among other things. It’s unclear whether he began discussing selling out sick, elderly and poor Oklahomans before or after the steak.
It’s no secret I’m not the senator’s biggest fan. Nor is it a secret that he and I disagree vehemently on the topic of health care (as well as nearly every other policy issue). But as Republicans work to repeal Obamacare — seemingly by any measure necessary — there are some promises Lankford has made and things he has claimed in regard to health care that we need to discuss.
When it comes to health care, James Lankford tends to lie — a lot. Here are five things he’s falsely claimed or promised to Oklahomans over the past month, along with the receipts to prove they simply weren’t true.
He claimed the Senate’s proposed bill would not cut Medicaid
The now-defunct Senate bill would have made major changes to Medicaid in two key ways. First, it would have rolled back Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion over the next few years. This change, of course, would not have had a major effect on Oklahoma, as one of the states where the governor refused to expand Medicaid.
The second change actually would have had a major — and deadly — impact on Oklahomans. The bill would have converted Medicaid funding to block grants, essentially committing to only a set amount of funding for the state regardless of growing needs. When the Congressional Budget Office scored the House bill (which had very similar changes to Medicaid in it) it estimated the bill would cut $880 billion from the program over the next 10 years. By 2036, the funding would drop by 35 percent compared to current levels.
He promised that the GOP plan would continue to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions
As someone with multiple pre-existing conditions — including a genetic disease that would be fatal without treatment — this is the provision I was most worried about. After confronting Lankford on a plane, I asked him about retaining pre-existing condition provisions, both over the phone and at an in-person meeting. Both times, he said that the Republican plan would continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions at the same level we are protected now.
That statement is so blatantly false that the heads of two of the largest health insurance providers — including Blue Cross Blue Shield, the sole provider available in Oklahoma via the Marketplace — sent a letter to Senate leaders earlier this month warning of its negative impact on the chronically ill. In the letter, they warned that the Senate’s proposed plan would create “… two systems of insurance for healthy and sick people.” Their letter also cautioned that,
… as healthy people move to the less-regulated plans, those with significant medical needs will have no choice but to stay in the comprehensive plans, and premiums will skyrocket for people with preexisting conditions.
He said health insurance premiums increased by 76 percent in Oklahoma since the ACA
The estimates that Lankford loves to quote — after all, increases of 76 percent sound terrifying — are not based in reality. Those averages fail to reflect what consumers actually pay after federal subsidies. They also neglect the fact that the ACA allows consumers to shop around and compare plan rates more easily, choosing the best and most affordable plan for them.
In fact, in 2016, 76 percent of Marketplace customers in Oklahoma could choose a plan with a premium of $75 or less per month after tax credits. And it’s not just those buying through the Marketplace that have benefited financially — the ACA has helped those receiving health insurance through an employer, whether they realize it or not.
For the 51 percent of Oklahomans who obtain health insurance through their job, premium increases slowed drastically thanks to the ACA, from 8 percent per year from 2000 to 2010 to 5 percent per year from 2010 to 2015. All told, that decrease in premium-rate growth represented a savings of almost $2,600 per year for the average American family in 2015.
He refuses to acknowledge the Oklahomans directly insured because of the ACA
Whenever waxing poetic on the terrors of Obamacare, Lankford often glosses over the Oklahomans the ACA helps. We don’t fit his narrative. On Fox News last week, he acknowledged that, “… we have some new people in the safety net, that’s true …” before immediately pivoting back to his talking points.
Those “some” that Lankford referred to include 66,600 Oklahomans who were previously uninsured but now have access to health insurance. And that’s despite the 82,000 Oklahomans who were left behind when Gov. Mary Fallin chose to not expand Medicaid. Were Oklahoma to expand Medicaid, those “some” he refers to would be nearly 150,000 Oklahomans. That’s quite a sum indeed, Sen. Lankford.
He says he’s simply listening to Oklahomans and doing what they want
While it’s true that some Oklahomans continue to oppose the ACA, a growing number appear more opposed to the idea of repealing it. A poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released this month showed that 71 percent of Americans want a bipartisan solution to improve the ACA rather than Lankford’s preferred repeal efforts.
Even those that voted for Donald Trump appear to be shifting that direction. Trump voters in favor of a bipartisan solution were statistically tied with those in favor of repeal and replace, at 46 and 47 percent, respectively.
Besides, Lankford’s efforts to “listen to Oklahomans” don’t appear to be going very well — or going at all, at times. Last week, when a group of disabled Oklahomans went to the senator’s Oklahoma office during business hours, they were told there was no one there to listen to their concerns or stories.
Please focus on the people
Let’s just hope that this time he thought a little bit less about the steak and a little bit more about the Oklahomans he represents.