Medicaid Deaths, VA Woes, And Fox News Hypocrisy

Fox Cheered When GOP Governors Withheld Health Coverage

Twisting itself in partisan knots, Fox News can't keep track of when denying health benefits to Americans is a good thing and when it's a bad thing. Here's a helpful crib sheet: Denying health care by expanding Medicaid is cheered by Fox News.  Denying health care through Veterans Affairs backlogs is not.

The current VA controversy has unleashed waves of right-wing media attacks on the organization, which conservative commentators now depict as a failed government-run health care agency. (It's not.)

Fueling their five-year obsession with trying to undermine and obstruct The Affordable Care Act at every turn, right-wing pundits have denounced the backlog that veterans face, the allegations of secret waiting lists at a Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix, and claims that dozens of vets reportedly died while on a waiting list to see a VA doctor. Looking to score points politically, Fox News talkers have proclaimed the VA mess to be a preview of some sort of Obamacare debacle for the general public.

Fox's Kimberly Guilfoyle recently labeled Obamacare “one big fat VA system.” (False.) Colleague Ben Carson tactlessly called the veterans health care failure “a God send” because it highlighted how awful Obamacare is going to be. And Fox's Eric Bolling claimed delays that took place at the VA in Phoenix would repeat themselves nationwide under Obamacare, and 500 people “are going to die waiting” every year for treatment because of the president's health care reform law.  

The larger Fox message machine has been focused: There's nothing worse, nothing more callous and unimaginable, than vets being denied the government health care they're entitled to, and some dying as a consequence.

Left unmentioned from Fox and friends? In the case of the recent implementation of Obamacare and the federal government's effort to expand Medicaid benefits, Republican governors and lawmakers in 24 states have refused, for partisan reasons, to accept the federal funds to insure more of their citizens. The result? Citizens are being denied government health care they're entitled to, and thousands may die as a consequence.

The Affordable Care Act was passed into law with the assumption that all states would expand Medicaid. But a Supreme Court decision ruled that states could opt out. Twenty-four did (five of which are either seeking waivers for alternate plans or currently debating adopting the expansion), immediately creating a coverage gap that engulfed millions Americans who are denied the benefits of expanded Medicaid and who don't qualify for premiums subsidies under Obamacare.

Hardened ideologically, governors such as Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Florida's Rick Scott, South Carolina's Nikki Haley, and Wisconsin's Scott Walker, took the extraordinary step of denying coverage to its citizens. Despite the fact taxpayers in those states are paying for the federal expansion of Medicaid, they're not eligible to receive it. The boycotts affect approximately five million people, including more than 250,000 U.S. veterans in those states.

From Vox:

Florida: Obamacare's Medicaid expansion would provide 1,212,000 poor Floridians with comprehensive health insurance, including 41,200 veterans. But the state has refused to let the expansion go forward.

Georgia: Obamacare's Medicaid expansion would provide 599,000 poor Georgians with comprehensive health insurance, including 24,900 veterans. But the state has refused to let the expansion go forward.

The list goes on.

Fox News championed that deliberate political calculation to deny people insurance in red states. The same Fox team that now demands VA resignations over the fact too many vets have been denied health care and some have died while waiting for it, is the same Fox team that led the public charge to block Medicaid's expansion.

Of course the VA should be held accountable and service to American veterans needs to be improved. But Fox News has shown absolutely no concern for the estimated 7,000-17,000 Americans who will die each year because of their state's failure to accept expanded Medicaid. That was the projection made in a study this year by professors at Harvard University and the City University of New York, and published in Health Affairs.

From the study [emphasis added]:

We estimate the number of deaths attributable to the lack of Medicaid expansion in opt-out states at between 7,115 and 17,104.  Medicaid expansion in opt-out states would have resulted in 712,037 fewer persons screening positive for depression and 240,700 fewer individuals suffering catastrophic medical expenditures. 

Medicaid expansion in these states would have resulted in 422,553 more diabetics receiving medication for their illness, 195,492 more mammograms among women age 50-64 years and 443,677 more pap smears among women age 21-64. Expansion would have resulted in an additional 658,888 women in need of mammograms gaining insurance, as well as 3.1 million women who should receive regular pap smears.

All of those health care benefits, paid for by the federal government, are being denied to people in places like Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas. (Prior to Obamacare, an estimated 45,000 Americans died each year due to lack of health insurance, according to a study by Harvard researchers.)

And then there is the economic impact. “By refusing to expand Medicaid, Texas will forgo $9.2 billion in federal funding in 2022, the authors said. Florida, another state that has said it won't expand Medicaid, stands to lose more than $5 billion,” according to the Washington Post.  

Radical? Absolutely.

As reported in 2012, “Some health care experts said it was unthinkable that state leaders would really opt out, since the vast majority of the cost is covered by the federal government -- taxes their citizens will pay, regardless of whether the state opts in or out.” “Unthinkable,” indeed. But the policy quickly went mainstream within the Republican Party and was widely cheered by conservatives in the media. 

As Media Matters noted, when GOP governors began announcing they would reject the Medicaid expansion in July 2012, Fox & Friends praised Florida governor Rick Scott for doing so. That same day  Fox News contributor Sarah Palin appeared on On the Record and said she “would like to see governors be tough and opt out” of the expansion."

How's that for Orwellian? Denying people health benefits they're entitled to, which in turn leads to thousands of deaths each year, now represents being “tough.”

In the two years since, Fox has consistently attacked GOP governors who adopt the Medicaid expansion.

Laura Ingraham slammed Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich -- a former Fox News host himself -- for embracing the Medicaid expansion. While guest-hosting him on The O'Reilly Factor, she termed Kasich Obama's “BFF” and suggested he wasn't governing in a fiscally responsible way. Neil Cavuto has questioned whether Republican governors who accept the Medicaid expansion but still say they oppose Obamacare are “just as pregnant, just as a little bit pregnant?”

Ben Carson said that if he was advising the governor of Maryland on Medicaid expansion, “I would say we need to start talking about something that makes sense. It doesn't make a lot of sense to invest a lot of our eggs in something that doesn't work.” And Sean Hannity demanded that Republican party head Reince Priebus explain why GOP governors were “going along” with the expansion.

As the Harvard/CUNY study made plain, “Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal.” The difference between denying Medicaid benefits and the VA troubles today is that nobody from a political party or movement set out to make sure U.S. vets couldn't get access to the health care the government wanted to provide to them. But that's exactly what's happening in Republican states that have boycotted Medicaid's expansion. It's a deliberate move to deny health care.

People are dying because of it and hypocrites at Fox News don't mind.