Little white lies
When Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., was in Hays a few weeks ago, the town hall meeting went according to script. Bash the president, Obamacare, Kathleen Sebelius, and efforts to protect the lesser prairie chicken -- then shake some hands of supporters and move on to the next gathering.
It is a tried-and-true formula for election success in this red state, and one Huelskamp has mastered.
However, some of the Big First representative's comments made at the Rose Garden Banquet Hall have caught the attention of non-constituents in Washington who question politicians for a living. Specifically, Huelskamp's assertions about the Affordable Care Act have been awarded Four Pinocchios by the Fact Checker at the Washington Post. That ranking is the worst one can receive for honesty on a subject.
"Huelskamp can be as big as critic of the law as he wants," wrote the column's author, Glenn Kessler, "but he's not entitled to conjure phony facts out of thin air."
The Fact Checker keyed in on this statement made in Hays by Huelskamp: "There are more folks uninsured today in our district, we believe, than were uninsured before Obamacare kicked in."
It also mentioned a similar critique the congressman offered at a Salina town hall meeting earlier that week: "It's hard to get accurate numbers on anything. But the numbers we see today is that -- as I understand them -- we believe there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president's health-care plan went into effect. And I thought the goal was to bring more people into insurance."
Kessler asked Huelskamp's staff for the source of his statements, which was not provided.
After researching the matter, the Fact Checker concluded: "One likely reason for Huelskamp's failure to provide backup data: There are no useful numbers on the number of uninsured since the enrollment period started in October 2013."
Why? Because that data comes from U.S. Census figures, and the most recent period available is 2012. The most recent five periods show the state's number of uninsured hovering at 350,000, with only 2010 having significant variation (approximately 30,000 more Kansans were uninsured that year because of the recession, and the number dropped back down the following year).
But there are some figures available from the rollout of Obamacare in the Sunflower State. No fewer than 29,309 Kansans had signed up for health care insurance on the federal exchanges.
So if the only numbers available show there are less uninsured individuals in Kansas since Obamacare kicked in, why would the congressman assert the opposite? We would venture because it plays well in this area. Remember, Huelskamp has been part of the bloc that has voted almost 60 times to repeal Obamacare without ever offering an alternative. Also, state lawmakers in Kansas have passed legislation decrying the ACA while at the same time refusing to expand Medicare -- something which could have driven down the number of uninsured significantly.
Even if Rep. Huelskamp is a darling of the tea party group and opposed to most everything, it does not give him liberty to make things up about federal laws and policies. Be against Obamacare all you want, but don't fabricate what actually is going on in the nation's capital. The town hall meetings should be about exchanging information, not disinformation.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry