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It’s been a wild and wooly year in Virginia politics. We witnessed the fall of former Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the near-ouster of Sen. Mark Warner, races that provided rich fodder for our fact-checkers. We delved into budget impasses, Medicaid expansion, Obamacare and the Keystone Pipeline. We even checked a claim about "origami" condoms.
Here are the five most popular Truth-O-Meters published in 2014 as measured by the number of page views the stories received on PolitiFactVirginia.com.
1. State Sen. George Barker: Uncompensated care has "gone down by 30 percent just in the first few months" of Medicaid expansions in the states that adopted it.
Barker, D-Fairfax, argued in July for Medicaid expansion. He said, "Those states who have adopted Medicaid expansion, and half of the states have -- what they have seen just in the first few months of this calendar year, 2014 – is a reduction in uncompensated care. That means people who show up at the hospital, show up at the emergency department, are uninsured and can’t pay anything – charity care that’s provided by the hospital – that’s gone down by 30 percent just in the first few months."
In our check, we considered a report from the Colorado Hospital Association that looked at 30 states, 15 with Medicaid expansion and 15 without. In states with expansion, hospitals saw a decrease in charity care from an average of $2.8 million per hospital in the first quarter of 2013 to $1.9 million per hospital in the first quarter of 2014, a 32 percent drop. Out-of-pocket charges for patients slid from 4.7 percent of all charges to 3.1 percent of all charges, a 34 percent decline. Medicaid charges jumped from 15.3 percent to 18.8 percent, a 19 percent increase. Though the data was early, we rated the claim True.
2. Ed Gillespie: "This administration is slashing the Navy to pay for more Obamacare."
This was a repeated claim from Gillespie, the Republican candidate against incumbent Sen. Mark Warner.
The Navy’s budget has declined in recent years, but due to automatic spending cuts caused by partisan deadlock, not the health care law. We found that the two are funded under different budget rules. The Navy is part of discretionary spending, which means Congress can adjust the figure annually.
Meanwhile, Obamacare is an entitlement program, so the government has promised to give certain benefits to a population and Congress can’t adjust the bottom line without tinkering with the system. Finally, the law was written so that specific taxes and long-term Medicare savings would underwrite the cost of the program. This claim was egregious and rated Pants on Fire!
3. Sen. Rand Paul: "$2.4 million of the NIH dollars was spent on ‘origami’ condoms."
Paul, R-Ky., made the comments during an October visit to Virginia and in the midst of the Ebola outbreak. Paul listed a series of projects at the NIH that he considered pork and "origami" condoms made that list. NIH supports several condom research projects because it wants to encourage use of condoms to lower the frequency of unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases.
Since 2006, the NIH awarded seven grants totalling almost $2.5 million to a California company named ORIGAMI. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has praised ORIGAMI’s work. The company believes that form of contraception would be used by more men if condoms were more pleasing, less cumbersome and safer to use.
The company is developing silicone condoms with accordion-like pleats that are loose-fitting and faster to use. The company is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the product and hopes to sell it next year. Paul expressed his ire at the grants in a way -- both in his speech and in earlier social media posts -- that made listeners and readers think there was a folded paper condom project, not that the grants went to a company called ORIGAMI. This bit of misdirection earned Paul’s statement a Mostly True.
4. Republican Party of Virginia: "Ninety-seven percent of the time. That’s how often Mark Warner votes with President Obama."
This was a constant theme in Republican Ed Gillespie’s near-upset of Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. We took a look at the voting record numbers from CQ Weekly, a nonpartisan Washington news service. When Barack Obama had a stated opinion on a roll call vote, Warner indeed voted with the president’s wishes 97 percent of the time.
But there are a few important items to note. First, President Barack Obama staked out a "clear position" on only 28 percent of the Senate’s roll call votes since Warner joined the body in 2009.
Second, more than half of those clear positions were to confirm presidential nominations for federal posts. Warner voted with the president on some high-profile issues, such as the Affordable Care Act, extending the Patriot Act, a farm bill, extending reduced interest rates on student loans and increasing debt limits. But Warner also opposed the president on key issues, including votes against regulating assault weapons and against delaying the start of sequestration in 2013. The Republican Party was right on the number, so with those notes, we rated the statement True.
5. State Sen. Richard Saslaw: Female students at U.Va. "have a 20 percent chance of being sexually assaulted."
Saslaw, D-Fairfax was enraged after reading a Rolling Stone article that detailed an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. About a week before the magazine issued a statement backing away from its story, Saslaw spoke at a Falls Church City Council about the article. Saslaw said he planned to introduce a bill requiring college officials to notify law enforcement within 24 hours of being told of a sexual assault. He added, "What parent in their right mind would send a daughter to U.Va. when she’s got -- are you ready for this? -- a 20 percent chance, a 20 percent chance of being sexually assaulted?"
That statistic was from the Rolling Stone article, which said "one in five women is sexually assaulted in college though only about 12 percent report it to police." The article didn’t cite a source, but it likely came from a widely-cited December 2007 study on college sexual assaults by the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice.
Researchers surveyed 5,446 undergraduate women at two large unnamed public universities -- one in the Midwest and one in the South. The study defined sexual assault as unwanted touching, intercourse, oral sex, anal sex or sexual penetration with an object or finger. Researchers acknowledged that the results were limited to those universities and may not generalize to all colleges. They used a web-based survey, which yielded a "modest" 42 percent response rate, but which, they hoped, would provide more candid answers.
There’s no way to know whether the one-in-five ratio applies to U.Va. It is possible, but there’s no specific data to confirm that’s the case. Because Saslaw asserts that the number applies to U.Va. without sufficient evidence, we rated his claim Mostly False.
Stories with a shelf life
Some of the most read stories during 2014 were articles that were published in previous years, but continued to generating interest. Among them was a Truth-O-Meter we did about a May, 2013 statement by Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, who said that the Democratic party created the Ku Klux Klan -- a claim we ruled False. Another well-read piece was a 2012 story we did on Rep. Gerry Connolly’s claim that Ronald Reagan "raised taxes in 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987" -- a statement that is True. Another article that garnered significant reader attention this year was a claim by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, who said back in 2012 that homosexual behavior "cuts your life by about 20 years." We found that statement to be False.
PolitiFact Virginia, "State Sen. Stephen Martin says Democratic Party created the Ku Klux Klan," June 10, 2013.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Sen. George Barker says uncompensated care has fallen 30 percent in states that expanded Medicaid," Aug. 10, 2014.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Ed Gillespie says White House is cutting Navy to pay for Obamacare," Aug. 3, 2014.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Rep. Gerry Connolly says Reagan raised taxes during five years of presidency," June 25, 2012.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Bob Marshall says homosexual behavior cuts life expectancy by 20 years," June 7, 2012.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Rand Paul says NIH spent $2.4 million on ‘origami’ condoms," Oct. 27, 2014.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Virginia GOP says Warner votes with Obama 97 percent of the time," May 15, 2014.
PolitiFact Virginia, "Saslaw says 20 percent of female students at University of Virginia are sexually assaulted," Dec. 8, 2014.