Carly Fiorina used Tuesday night’s Republican primary debate to push her plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that “Obamacare isn’t helping anyone” and that it “has to be repealed because it’s failing the very people it is intending to help.” There’s just one problem: Most of what Fiorina said on this front was completely wrong.
The debate, a joint event hosted by the Wall Street Journal and Fox Business Network, promised to deliver an issue-focused foray into candidates’ economic policies and platforms missing from many previous debates—and media outlets seem to be in agreement that this is what we received.
Prior to Tuesday’s debate, the ACA has received surprisingly little attention during the primary debate season. During Fox News’ first Republican debate, the topic didn’t rank among the most prominent issues discussed, and even Democratic debates and forums have largely skipped over it.
This means the public isn’t getting answers from candidates about their views on health care. “The result … is that the public is not learning much from these widely viewed events about what candidates would do regarding one of the country’s most divisive issues should he or she be elected president,” Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman explained in an analysis for the Wall Street Journal.
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On Tuesday, Fox News debate moderator Maria Bartiromo finally pushed a candidate to talk about the ACA: Carly Fiorina. When Bartiromo asked Fiorina whether she supported the health-care law’s employer mandate, which requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance, the candidate launched into a speech blasting the ACA for failing to truly help anyone, claiming that it needed to be rolled back because “it’s failing the very people it is intending to help.”
Fiorina’s assertion that the health-care law has failed to help Americans is a stretch, if not an outright falsehood. According to Gallup polling, the ACA has resulted in a dramatic 5.5 percent decline in the rate of uninsured persons in the United States. In 2014 alone, the ACA enabled more than ten million people to gain access to affordable health-care coverage. Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that this trend has continued into 2015, with 7.5 million fewer Americans than the year before finding themselves uninsured in the first six months of the year.
“Just to be clear, you want to repeal Obamacare … but, what’s the alternative?” Bartiromo pressed after Fiorina’s answer.
Fiorina’s response was again composed of more fiction than anything else. “The alternative is to allow states to manage high-risk pools for those who really need help. Look, I’m a cancer survivor, OK? I understand that you cannot have someone who’s battled cancer just become known as a preexisting condition. I understand that you cannot allow families to go bankrupt if they truly need help. But, I also understand that Obamacare isn’t helping anyone,” said Fiorina.
The high-risk pools Fiorina outlined as part of an ACA replacement strategy refer to state-sponsored health plans for those unable to obtain insurance in the private market due to preexisting conditions. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, these plans do not provide a good alternative for those with preexisting conditions, as research based on the 35 states in which such programs previously existed found that the coverage they provided was expensive and created “a greater burden on individuals with expensive medical conditions who have already spent large amounts of their income on health care.”
According to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health-care policy organization, in the past high-risk pools have resulted in higher costs for consumers, administrators, and both state and federal governments—all while offering people who rely on them for care with “much less than optimal coverage, often with annual and lifetime limits, coverage gaps, and very high premiums and deductibles.”
Fiorina failed to go into detail about her plans to provide care to the rest of the millions of Americans without preexisting conditions, who would lose insurance should the ACA be overturned.
After she spoke about high-risk pools, Fiorina then transitioned into lamenting the expansion of Medicaid through the health-care law. “We’re throwing more and more people into Medicaid, and fewer and fewer doctors are taking those payments,” she said.
However Fiorina’s complaints gloss over the fact that those who use Medicaid are happy with the care they receive. Reporting on Fiorina’s dismissal of the program, the Huffington Post explained that “while physicians are more likely to see patients with private insurance or Medicare, 75 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries told Gallup they were satisfied with their coverage, a higher rating than given by people with health plans provided by employers or unions.”
Fiorina also asserted, “The point is Obamacare is crushing small businesses, it is not helping the families it was intended to help.”
Yet study after study has come to the opposite conclusion. A September report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only a “relatively small” number of companies with fewer than 50 employees switched full-time employees to part-time in order to avoid offering health insurance to their staff or reduced their hiring because of the health-care law. These findings underscore the Urban Institute’s findings that the ACA had “virtually no adverse effect on labor force participation, employment, or usual hours worked per week through 2014.”
Fiorina rounded out her flawed health-care position with a call: “Let us ensure that as patients, and customers … that we have information to shop wisely for our health care.” Unfortunately, her own arguments against the Affordable Care Act didn’t give voters the same kind of accurate information for which she claimed to be advocating.