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



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: Is Donald Trump’s Approval Rating Highest of All in West Virginia?



During a recent interview with Bloomberg television, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was asked about how his constituents feel about the government shutdown and the immigration policy dispute that caused it.

In the Jan. 8 interview — conducted a few weeks before President Donald Trump and congressional leaders ended the shutdown — Manchin said some West Virginia residents are concerned about losing the flow of federal checks and about legal immigration visas.

He prefaced these comments by noting how popular President Donald Trump is in his state.

“President Trump has the strongest support percentage-wise in our state than any other state in the nation,” Manchin said. “He won West Virginia by almost 43 percentage points, and he’s been carrying close to 60 percent approval.”

Just how supportive of Trump is West Virginia? Let’s break down Manchin’s statement into three parts.”President Trump has the strongest support percentage-wise in our state than any other state in the nation.”

It’s clear that West Virginia is at or near the top, but it’s hard to say for sure if they are No. 1.

When we reached out to Manchin’s communications director, Jonathan Kott, he said the senator was referring to the 2016 election results. However, Manchin used the present tense to describe Trump’s level of support in the state, and two years after the 2016 election, Trump’s election results are no longer an up-to-date measure of his support levels.

So we turned to state-by-state ratings by Morning Consult, the only survey group today that offered recent presidential approval scores in all 50 states at the time Manchin made his remarks. The most recent figures are from December 2018.

By this measure, West Virginia actually ranks No. 2 in the nation, according to the most recent report. The December 2018 approval rating for Trump reached 61 percent in West Virginia, but that was a few points below Wyoming, with 64 percent.

That’s within the poll’s margin of error, which ranges from one to five percentage points depending on the size of the state. This means that West Virginia and Wyoming are effectively neck-and-neck in Trump approval — but Alabama and possibly Mississippi (at 58 percent and 56 percent, respectively) could also be neck-and-neck with West Virginia.”He won West Virginia by almost 43 percentage points.”

This part of his remark refers to actual electoral results in 2016.

Trump won 67.85 percent of the vote in West Virginia in 2016, with Hillary Clinton taking 26.18 percent. That’s a difference of 41.67 percentage points. So he’s off only slightly.”He’s been carrying close to 60 percent approval.”

Manchin is on target here — in the December Morning Consult survey, Trump had a 61 percent approval rating in West Virginia, meaning that Manchin actually understated the figure slightly.

Earlier polls were in the same range. A WVMetroNews/The Dominion Post poll in September 2018 found 60 percent approval for Trump, while an October 2018 pollby WSAZ and Gray Television found 58 percent approval.Our ruling

Manchin said, “President Trump has the strongest support percentage-wise in  our state than any other state in the nation. He won West Virginia by almost 43 percentage points and he’s been carrying close to the 60 percent approval.”

Manchin is close on all three measurements of Trump’s support in West Virginia. His main point — that Trump remains popular in the state — holds. But we should note that it’s difficult to say that West Virginia tops all other states in its Trump approval. Wyoming, Alabama and Mississippi also have very high levels of support, and each could plausibly claim to be the most Trump-supporting state.  

We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact-check: West Virginia Governor’s Stats on Growing Foster Care Numbers Mostly True



West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice during his 2019 State of the State address. Photo: Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice took to Twitter to encourage residents to adopt foster children.

On Nov. 9, Justice tweeted, “November is #NationalAdoptionMonth! As of September 2018, there are 6,683 WV children in foster care — 1,415 of whom are legally eligible for adoption. To learn more about adoption or becoming a foster parent, contact Mission WV at 866-CALL-MWV (225-5698).”

We took a closer look at the underlying data and found a small discrepancy.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Children and Families keeps records on this question, including a monthly legislative report.

According to the October 2018 report, which includes numbers through the end of September 2018, there were 6,683 children in the West Virginia foster care system. However, a slightly smaller number of these children — 6,289 — are listed as “WV children.” The remaining 394 are out-of-state children who happen to be in the West Virginia system.

We asked the agency why there are “out-of-state” children in the system. They said these children are legal residents of West Virginia who have been relocated out-of-state, such as living with a relative. Despite currently living out-of-state, these children remain eligible to receive care through West Virginia’s system.

The same in-state vs. out-of-state distinction holds for the second part of Justice’s assertion — the number of foster children who are eligible to be legally adopted.

What qualifies a child in foster care to be “legally eligible for adoption”? To be adopted, their parents must have their parental rights terminated.

A spokeswoman for the agency, Allison Adler, told PolitiFact West Virginia that the children in the “relatives/kinship” category in the following chart are the only ones legally eligible for adoption.

That means that 1,415 children in the system overall are eligible for adoption, but are legally eligible for adoption, but of those, only 1,392 are “WV children.”

Justice’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Our ruling

Justice tweeted, “As of September 2018, there are 6,683 WV children in foster care — 1,415 of whom are legally eligible for adoption.”

Justice isn’t far off with his numbers, but he lumps in a modest number of out-of-state children with “WV children” for both numerical categories he cited. We rate the statement Mostly True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact-check: West Virginia Governor’s State of the State Address



Photo: Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

Gov. Jim Justice delivered his third State of the State addresstonight, proposing the elimination of a state tax on Social Security benefits, a 5 percent pay raise for state employees including teachers, and millions of dollars more for substance abuse and other social services.

PolitiFact West Virginia took a look at the accuracy of a few of Justice’s statements in the speech. We will analyze additional statements from the speech in the coming days.

When I took office, “our state was bankrupt.”

Not exactly.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice gives his state of the state address on Jan. 9, 2019. Photo: Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

In October 2018, we looked at a similar claim by Justice — “A little over one year ago I was sworn in as your governor. At that time, our state was bankrupt for all practical purposes.” We ended up not providing a truth rating for that statement because it was hard for us to weigh the meaning of the phrase “for all practical purposes.”

In the State of the State address, Justice offered no such qualification.

Justice was elected in November 2016 and was sworn into office on Jan. 16, 2017.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released in 2016, West Virginia’s accumulated debt at that time was in excess of $7.2 billion. We’ll use this as a rough stand-in for the scale of the debt at the time Justice became governor.

The problem is that having debt — even in the billions of dollars — does not necessarily mean that a state is broke.

Dictionaries define “broke” as “having no money; bankrupt” and “without money; penniless.”

That was not the case for West Virginia, which still paid its bills. Further, under federal law, it’s doubtful that a state would be allowed to declare itself bankrupt.

Credit agency ratings serve as a gauge of a state’s creditworthiness. West Virginia’s status wasn’t perfect, but it was also not at the bottom of the scale.

One of the main credit agencies, Standard and Poor’s, had West Virginia in both 2016 and 2017 at a rating of AA- on a scale of AAA to BBB-. That’s worse than many states, but the same as or better than others, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

And as a worst-case scenario, a state could always raise taxes to help pay its bills. (This would be politically unpopular, but it would be a way to avoid being unable to pay outstanding bills.)

We’ll use an analogy we’ve used previously: Your paycheck doesn’t cover your bills every month, but you have a great credit score, you use your credit card to cover the difference, and have no trouble paying your credit card bill. Would you describe yourself as “bankrupt” or “impoverished”?

We wouldn’t. We’d reserve that description for the neighbor who was behind on his mortgage and couldn’t pay his creditors.

“As long as the state can service its debt, it is not bankrupt,” said Brian Lego, a research assistant professor for economic forecasting at West Virginia University. “The state was in difficult financial circumstances at the time (of Justice’s statement) due to the downturn in coal and weakness in natural gas. But it was not bankrupt.”

West Virginia currently has the “biggest surplus in the state’s history.”

This appears to be correct.

On the eve of the State of the State speech, the governor’s office announced that collections for fiscal year 2019 were $185.9 million above estimates, producing “the biggest surplus in the state’s history during the first six months of any fiscal year.”

“Greenbrier County has a 100 percent graduation rate.”

According to the state Education Department’s county-by-county graduation statistics web page, Greenbrier County — where Justice lives — had an 89.97 percent four-year graduation rate and a 90.88 percent five-year graduation rate. Neither is as high as 100 percent.
As we noted in our initial report, we reached out to the governor’s office for clarification and said we would adjust the article as needed. On Jan. 12, the governor’s office told us that Justice had been referring specifically to the Communities in Schools program in Greenbrier County. His office said that high-school seniors in that program have a 100 percent graduation rate.

According to the state Education Department’s county-by-county graduation statistics web page, Greenbrier County — where Justice lives — had an 89.97 percent four-year graduation rate and a 90.88 percent five-year graduation rate. Neither is as high as 100 percent.

This was a puzzler, and we’ve reached out to the governor’s office for clarification. We’ll update this article if we hear back.

“In 2017 we greatly surpassed the national growth” rate in tourism.

We have rated a similar statement by Justice Mostly True. He had said that the state’s tourism industry “grew at a rate 30 percent above the national rate in 2017.”

According to a West Virginia Press report published in the Herald-Dispatch, the data came from the 2017 West Virginia Travel Impacts study undertaken by the firm Dean Runyan Associates. The study was prepared on behalf of the state tourism office.

In the nation as a whole, the report found, spending by resident and foreign visitors increased by 3.0 percent over 2016. In West Virginia, by contrast, total travel spending increased by 3.9 percent.

If you do the math, 3.9 percent is 30 percent higher than 3.0 percent.

That said, it’s worth noting that Justice highlighted the most favorable data in the report. He chose not to highlight the fact that, according to the report, local tax revenue from tourism fell by 2.7 percent over the same period, while state tax revenue fell by 1.2 percent.

“The tolls on the turnpike are going to change to $4.00 in a couple of days and we have pleaded with you and pleaded with you to buy your E-ZPasses that are almost going to cost you little to nothing.”

Justice isn’t kidding when he said he’s pleaded with West Virginians to buy E-ZPasses.

In August 2018, he tweeted, “BIG SAVINGS: I promised a great E-ZPass deal and here it is. Thousands of folks are opening West Virginia E-ZPass accounts, and you can join them! If you sign up now, your plan will automatically transition to the $24 three-year plan in September.”

In October, we looked at whether he was right that “thousands of folks are opening West Virginia E-ZPass accounts.”  

Dalphord W. Webb, director of customer service operations for West Virginia E-ZPass, told PolitiFact West Virginia that “from August 1 through October 15, there were 13,630 new West Virginia E-ZPass accounts opened.”

If you prorate the number of new accounts that would have been opened between August 1 and August 27 — the day of Justice’s tweet — it works out to a bit under 5,000. That still counts as “thousands.”

We rated the statement True.

EDITOR’S NOTE, Jan. 12, 2019: This article has been updated to reflect additional information provided by Justice’s office about the graduation rate in Greenbrier County.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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