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Fact-check: Did Obamacare Premiums Rise 160 percent in West Virginia in Four Years?

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Patrick Morrisey speaks to reporters on Nov. 1, 2018. Photo: AP

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, recently took to Facebook to criticize the Affordable Care Act, the landmark law also known as Obamacare. Morrisey is seeking to overturn the law through a suit filed by a number of Republican attorneys general.

In his Jan. 2 post, Morrisey said the country must move on from the law because of “skyrocketing premiums” and “corrupt subsidies.” He said he would pursue other ways to help “people with preexisting conditions.”

Morrisey sought to bolster his claim by citing how much premiums have increased in West Virginia.

“We need affordable, high quality, health care choices,” he wrote. “Obamacare isn’t doing that. Premiums have gone up 160 percent in West Virginia in 4 yrs — bankrupting families & destroying choice.”

Just how much have premiums gone up in West Virginia in the last four years? We took a closer look. Premiums have gone up, but not by as much as Morrisey said.

Morrisey’s evidence

Morrisey’s office pointed to a document published on May 23, 2017, by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The document broke down premiums by state between 2013 and 2017.

A table in the report said that premiums in West Virginia rose from $261 in 2013 to $702 in 2017, a 169 percent increase. By this measure, Morrisey actually understated the increase slightly.

But there are two caveats to note.

First, the period 2013 to 2017 is not the most obvious interpretation of “premiums have gone up 160 percent in West Virginia in 4 yrs,” because data also exists for 2018 and 2019.

And second, the choice of 2013 data adds a complication, said Linda Blumberg, a fellow at the Urban Institute specializing in health care policy and the Affordable Care Act.

That’s because Obamacare mandates — such as barring denials of applications and requiring certain “essential benefits” — hadn’t kicked in yet. Regulations changed in 2014, making it difficult to compare 2013 with 2017.

“The 2013 plans, on average, had lower actuarial value, covered fewer benefits, and excluded significant segments of the population — those with significant health problems or risk of health problems,” Blumberg said. Because of this, “the premium comparisons are inappropriate across the periods, unless of course, you want average in the infinite premiums charged to people denied coverage outright, or the very high premiums charged to people who decided the plans offered were not worth the high prices charged to them.”

Morrisey’s office also provided updated data showing that the premiums for West Virginia using this method rose from $702 in 2017 to $855 in 2018. That demonstrates continued premium hikes — a 228 percent increase over 2013 — but in addition to using the problematic base year of 2013, this covers a span of five years, not four, as Morrisey had said.

Premium increases

So what does the data look like over the most recent four years, from 2015 to 2019? This is an apples-to-apples comparison because the Obamacare mandates were in place all four years.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on health policy, tracks data on Affordable Care Act premiums by state. According to the foundation, the average benchmark premiums for West Virginia in the online insurance marketplace have risen from $289 in 2015 to $596 in 2019.

That’s an increase of 106 percent.

Using this measure, premiums did rise over the period Morrisey mentioned, though not quite as high as the 2013-to-2017 premiums did.

Blumberg offered a similar figure — 94 percent — for the same period, using an online tool that tracks the state-by-state change in the lowest-priced “silver” premium, a mid-range category of coverage.

Blumberg added that the 2018 and 2019 premiums experienced an extra bump because Morrisey’s fellow Republicans in the Trump administration stopped paying for cost-sharing subsidies directly, meaning that insurers have had to work those costs into their premiums.

Our ruling

Morrisey said that Obamacare premiums “have gone up 160 percent in West Virginia in 4 yrs.”

The source cited by Morrisey’s office offered a figure close to 160 percent, but it used data for 2013 to 2017, which is not the most recent data. Also, it’s important to know that there was a change in the regulatory rules in 2014.

However, the actual rise in West Virginia premiums over the most recent four-year period, while not quite as fast as Morrisey said in his Facebook post, has been substantial. We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Can Cell Phones, Bluetooth Defeat Credit Card Skimmers?

A researcher holds a magnetic credit card "read head" that is used to read information from cards during retail transactions. Photo: AP

Should you be worried about credit card fraud when you pull up to the gas pump? A post circulating recently on social media says you can deploy your cell phone to stay safe.

An April 14, 2019, post on a Facebook page called “Local Jackson County News WV” told readers they can use their cell phones at gas stations to determine whether a pump has a credit card skimmer — a device that can steal credit card numbers.

The post said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Can Bluetooth sensors always determine if there are credit card skimmers in gas pumps? We took a closer look.

How skimmers work

First, some basics: Credit card skimmers are real, and they’re illegal.

When installed in gas pumps, skimmers listen for the data traffic from the credit card reader, record it to memory and pass that data onto the pump controller.

Skimmer technology has become so advanced that thieves do not have to return to the pump to retrieve the stolen information. Perpetrators can simply sit in their cars and download credit card information to a laptop.

A special agent with the U.S. Secret Service told NBCNews last year that the agency recovers 20 to 30 skimmers a week, with an average skimmer holding information from 80 credit cards.

Can Bluetooth sensors stop skimmers?

Bluetooth can be a useful tool for consumers who want to protect their information, but they are far from foolproof.

Paige Anderson, the director of government relations with the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group representing gas stations and convenience stores, told PolitiFact that there are too many kinds of credit card skimmers to rely on a phone to detect them.

“Some use Bluetooth technology, some use cell service and some skimming devices store the data themselves,” Anderson said.

Vassil Roussev, a computer scientist and director of the University of New Orleans Cyber Center, said that a “hit” on Bluetooth “could very well be an indicator of compromise by a skimmer, but it could also be any number of other devices within 30 feet or so, such as devices in other cars. More importantly, not finding one does not mean the pump is safe.”

The skimmer need not be detectable by Bluetooth, he said, or it could be programmed to send signals only at certain times.

“Overall, I would say that this tip offers a low level of protection,” Roussev said.

Anderson added that checking for skimmers is something gas station owners and workers need to do on a daily basis.

Retailers should conduct daily internal and external checks and take other measures to foil data thieves, she said. These practices reduce the risk of potential credit card theft, she said, though they may not eliminate it.

Our ruling

Local Jackson County News WV published a post that said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Checking a Bluetooth sensor in your cell phone before inserting your credit card in a gas pump may be able to determine whether the pump has been compromised. However, skimmer technologies vary, and many types of skimmers won’t be detectable using the Bluetooth method.

We rate the statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Are 19% of West Virginians on Food Stamps?

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A food drive at Newark Liberty International Airport, on Jan. 23, 2019. Photo: AP, Julio Cortez

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently took to Twitter to criticize a Trump administration proposal on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes known as food stamps.

Manchin wrote: “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed. I’m urging @USDA Sec Sonny Perdue to withdraw the proposal.”

The tweet linked to a press release from Manchin explaining his position on the proposal, which would give states less flexibility on enforcing work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. Manchin and several dozen senators from both parties expressed opposition to the proposal.

We won’t address the pros and cons of the Trump administration proposal here, but we did wonder if almost one of every five people in West Virginia rely on SNAP.

We checked with experts and looked at the data, and it turns out that Manchin was pretty close to the mark.

In February 2019, the most recent month for which full data is available, West Virginia had 314,042 SNAP beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the state’s estimated population for 2018, according to the Census Bureau, was 1,805,832.

That works out to 17.4 percent of state residents, or a bit lower than the 19 percent figure Manchin cited.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed.”

The percentage Manchin cited is a little high, but it’s close. We rate his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-checking Median Pay for Black, Hispanic, Native American Women

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A rally on National Equal Pay Day in Montpelier, Vt. Photo: AP

In a tweet timed for Equal Pay Day, the West Virginia Democratic Party sought to spotlight differences in pay between women of color and men.

The April 2 tweet said, “Black women make only around 63 cents while Native American women earn 58 cents, and Hispanic women make just 54 cents in comparison to every dollar a man makes. Today we not only acknowledge the pay gap, we recommit to closing it. #EqualPayDay2019.”

Is this correct? After looking at the underlying data, we found that it’s not far off.

When we contacted the party, they pointed us to a report produced by the National Partnership of Women and Families in April 2019.

The report said that “among women who hold full-time, year-round jobs in the United States, Black women are typically paid 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents and Latinas just 53 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.”

Those aren’t exactly the same numbers that the party offered, but they match the previous year’s version of the partnership’s report. So the data is slightly out of date.

In addition, we should note that the state party left out part of the description. The National Partnership of Women and Families was comparing women who hold full-time, year-round jobs, not just women who are working any amount of time. And they were also comparing those figures to white, non-Hispanic men, not to men more generally.

Potentially, this could make a difference. So we decided to look at the underlying Census Bureau data for the comparison the tweet actually made — earnings by Black, Native American and Hispanic women compared to all men.

Overall, according to the Census data, the median earnings for all male workers was $44,408. For Black women, it was $29,708, and for Hispanic women, it was $24,245.

That means that African-American women earned 67 cents for every dollar a man made, while Hispanic women earned 55 cents.

The data for Native American women was harder to locate. The National Partnership of Women and Families pointed us to a different data set from the Census Bureau.

According to that data set, men earned a median of $39,819, while Native American women earned $23,214. That works out to 58 cents on the dollar, as the tweet said.

All told, the tweet’s figure for African Americans was off by four cents, the figure for Hispanics was off by one cent, and the figure was accurate for Native Americans.

So, two of the tweet’s figures are off the mark, but not by much.

A final note: as we’ve written previously, this figure refers to the general disparity between what men and women earn, and does not compare cases of apples to apples.

These comparisons do not adjust for such factors as the degrees and jobs women pursue, the time they take off to care for children or the years of experience they’ve had.

Other studies have shown a closer match for men and women holding the same jobs.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Democratic Party tweeted, “Black women make only around 63 cents while Native American women earn 58 cents and Hispanic women make just 54 cents in comparison to every dollar a man makes.”

The tweet is right for Native American women, but the figures for black women and Hispanic women are 67 cents and 55 cents, respectively. That’s not exactly what the tweet said, but it’s not far off.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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