ProPublica Fact-Checks Blunt On Obamacare And Says He Was ‘Misleading’

Mar 10, 2017

ProPublica and three other journalism websites are teaming up to fact-check the accuracy of responses by members of Congress to constituents’ inquiries about Obamacare and its future.

And the first member of the House or Senate it fact-checked was Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who responded to California resident Meg Godfrey’s query about the health care law with the reasons he supports its repeal, buttressed with various statistics.

ProPublica’s assessment of Blunt’s response: “The note was misleading and lacked important context.”

In particular:

  • Blunt claimed that 4.7 million people lost their health insurance under Obamacare, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act. ProPublica says that’s an exaggeration.
  • Blunt claimed that Missourians saw an average 25 percent hike in their premiums. True, ProPublica says, but most enrollees received subsidies that greatly reduced the sticker price.
  • Blunt claimed that Missourians in 97 of 114 counties and the city of St. Louis have only one insurance provider. Also true, ProPublica says, but it notes that 63 percent of Missouri’s population has at least two provider choices.
  • Finally, ProPublica says that Blunt failed to point out that Missouri’s uninsured population declined from 13 percent in 2013, before the rollout of Obamacare, to 9.8 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which data are available.

The statistics Blunt marshaled are frequently invoked by opponents of Obamacare. For example, the four Republican candidates for governor of Missouri trotted out similar figures last year during a debate on Obamacare. KCUR fact-checked them and, like ProPublica, found they were misleading at best.   

We reached out to Sen. Blunt’s office for a response to ProPublica’s piece and here’s what Blunt spokesman Brian Hart emailed us:

“It's a real stretch to claim the senator’s statement is inaccurate while pointing out that every word of it is accurate and well-cited.  The bias is obvious when the story about Missouri is based on an email from someone in California who has never experienced the frustrations with the exchange in our state, and does so by creating a hypothetical person to try to prove their point.

“Background: On premiums, the piece (1) acknowledges that Blunt is 100% accurate in saying that the average premium increase for this year is 25%; (2) goes on to cherry-pick data to claim that one “hypothetical person” isn’t facing such an increase, even though that person has seen a 28% increase over the past two years; (3) fails to acknowledge that some Missourians in the Kansas City area are actually facing increases upward of 40 percent, well over the average. Finally, the piece fails to point out the drastic decrease in the number of insurance options from one year to the next which has resulted in 97 counties having only one option this year while diminishing the impacts on rural Missourians by citing what percentage of Missourians live in large cities. Last year 98% of Missouri counties plus the city of St. Louis had three or more options.”

It’s worth pointing out that nowhere does ProPublica say that every word of Blunt’s statement “is accurate and well-cited.” Beyond that, readers can judge whether his criticisms of the ACA are well-founded.

ProPublica, Kaiser Health News, Stat and Vox are gathering responses from other senators and representatives about the Affordable Care Act and its future. House Republicans have unveiled a plan to repeal and replace the law.

Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.