FACT CHECK: Dark money ad attacks Republican candidate Scott Smith in governor's race

PHOENIX - You see them on all sides of the political debate: So-called, “dark money” attack ads that are funded by national organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors.

The ABC15 Investigators are fact-checking one ad that’s been running locally against Republican gubernatorial hopeful Scott Smith. The ad targets his support of the Medicaid expansion in Arizona. It was paid for the 60 Plus Association , but more on that later.

THE ATTACK AD

“What do Scott Smith and Obama have in common? They both support more government control over your healthcare,” the ad begins.

It’s true that Smith supports the Medicaid expansion in Arizona. After the Affordable Care Act passed, every state had to approve the expansion of their Medicaid programs – Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS ) in Arizona.

Governor Brewer made a controversial decision that went against her party when she fought to get the legislature to approve the expansion last year . It extended Medicaid to about 300,000 additional low-income Arizonans.

The expansion was meant to provide health insurance to poor people who didn’t have insurance or have too little insurance, but that’s not how most conservatives saw it.

Going against the conservative establishment, Smith supported the expansion. The Smith campaign told ABC15 in a statement that their candidate supported the Medicaid expansion because it protects rural hospitals, provides veterans with quality health care and saves the state from being forced into deep cuts in education and public safety.

Brewer endorsed Smith in early August.

See the Smith campaign’s complete statement below.

The ad continues, “Experts knew most Arizonans who could be forced into AHCCCS through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion already had private insurance.”

The ABC15 Investigators asked the 60 Plus Association about this claim, and their spokesman, Gerry Scimeca, provided a complete response, which you can read below.

The experts the ad refers to, Scimeca said, are Steven D. Pizer, Boston University School of Public Health, Department of Veterans Affairs; Austin Frakt, Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Public Health; and Lisa Iezzoni, Harvard Medical School.

Scimeca cited a study from the Social Science Research Network that found Medicaid expansion would crowd out private insurance and make it less attractive to lower-income workers.

The ad goes on to say that some people who already had private insurance plans had “their plans… taken away by Obamacare.”

It’s true that many people’s plans were canceled because they needed to increase or change coverage to meet the new requirements.

The 60 Plus Association cited a news article that found the same thing .

“Instead of fighting for us so we could keep our plans and get government out of the way,” the ad continues, “Smith supported Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”

The Smith campaign calls this a false equivalency. Supporting the Medicaid expansion does not mean Smith supports the Affordable Care Act or the individual mandate for the healthcare it created.

THE 60 PLUS ASSOCIATION

So, what about the 60 Plus Association which paid for this ad and others?

This national group has already spent a reported $441,000 attacking Smith this campaign cycle, according to their filings reported to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office .

But, this association is no stranger to spending on elections. The 60 Plus Association advocates for senior citizens and stands opposed to the AARP, which they refer to as the Association Against Retired Persons.

From July 2012 through June 2011, the organization reported to the IRS that they spent $7.2 million in elections spending according to an analysis by Pro Publica .

The 60 Plus Association has a tax-exempt status with the IRS, and they say they’re non-partisan. And, as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, it doesn’t have to reveal the identifies of its donors like political campaigns do.

The 60 Plus Association has also spent about $339,000 in ads against Republican Christine Jones in her bid for the Republic Governor’s nomination. Their ads against Jones attack what they call her misleading claims about her military service.

Statement from the Scott Smith campaign:

Unfortunately, this is simply the latest in a string of attacks from Doug Ducey's dark money allies aiming to smear and distort Mayor Smith's record of consistent opposition to Obamacare. The ad falsely equates supporting Governor Brewer's Medicaid Restoration Plan with support of Obamacare's core principles of the individual mandate and employer mandates, which couldn't be further from the truth. Mayor Smith has stood in support of the Medicaid Restoration Plan because it protects rural hospitals, provides 14,000 veterans with quality health care and saves the state from being forced into deep cuts to education and public safety. Arizona hospitals are already seeing the benefits of this plan, with uncompensated care costs dropping by 75%

through this year. Out of state dark money groups can sling mud and false accusations at Mayor Smith, but Arizonans overwhelmingly agree that Medicaid Restoration was the right thing to do for our state.

Q & A with the 60 Plus Association

Why is the 60 Plus Association opposed to the Medicaid expansion?

60 Plus Association was one of the first groups to formally oppose the health care bill that eventually became the so-called “Affordable Care Act” also known as Obamacare. We remain staunchly opposed to Obamacare because it hurts Americans – especially seniors – through reducing choices, cuts to Medicare, loss of doctors, increasing taxes and overall harming access to quality of care. Governor Brewer’s Medicaid expansion is a component of Obamacare's implementation, which we oppose.

Your ad says, “experts knew most Arizonans who could be forced into AHCCCS through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion already had private insurance.” Can you provide the research that you based this statement on? Which experts are you referring to?

Source: The Effect of Health Reform on Public and Private Insurance in the Long Run

Social Science Research Network, February 17, 2011

We use established methods and recent data to estimate the effects of changes in premium taxes and Medicaid eligibility on the likelihood of being covered by public or private insurance. We find Medicaid expansion for working adults will crowd-out private insurance at a high rate and that premium taxes will make private coverage less attractive and public coverage more attractive to lower-income workers. We illustrate the implications of these findings by simulating the consequences of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. As the high-premium excise tax affects increasing numbers of workers between 2018 and 2030, we predict that some will shift from private to public coverage, amplifying the effect of Medicaid expansion. The proportion of workers and their families covered by public insurance will grow from 6% in 2006 to about 14% in 2030 while about 5% will obtain subsidized coverage through exchanges. The fraction covered by private insurance will grow initially in response to the mandate and then decline in response to the tax.

Our simulation results (Table 7) indicate that the scheduled expansion of Medicaid eligibility coupled with growth in the tax price will lead to a decline in private insurance and substantial growth in public insurance. Baseline results match descriptive statistics in Table 1: 66% of workers received an offer from an employer, 80% were covered by private insurance, 6% were covered by public insurance, and 14% were uninsured.

Experts:

-Steven D. Pizer, Boston University School of Public Health, Department of Veterans Affairs

-Austin Frakt, Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Public Health

-Lisa Iezzoni, Harvard Medical School

The ad also states that people’s plans were terminated as a result of the Medicaid expansion in Arizona. Can you provide the research this statement is based on, as well?

The ad does not make that claim. The ad says “Until their plans were taken away by Obamacare”.

Source: Most with Obamacare were previously uninsured, new survey finds

LA Times, June 19, 2014

Forty-six percent of people who switched from an old plan reported that they were paying less for their coverage this year. By comparison, 39% of people who switched plans said they were paying more. Many of these people had been in plans that were canceled last fall because the plans did not meet the law’s new insurance standards. The wave of cancellations, which contradicted President Obama’s promise that people who liked their existing insurance could keep it, posed an early crisis for the new marketplaces.

Arizona Secretary of State records show your organization has spent more than $311,000 against Scott Smith so far in this campaign cycle. Is this solely because of his stance on the Medicaid expansion?  

60 Plus, on behalf of the more than 160,000 Arizonans we represent, believes that Scott Smith’s positions and policies would be bad for Arizona. Not only does he support the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, he has also supported policies that would hurt our economy – including his support for the principles of the Kyoto Protocol, which would sharply increase energy costs which hurts seniors on a fixed income. He also supports greater involvement of the federal government in education through his support of Common Core.

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