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Running against three more prominent politicians, Wisconsin state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, arguably has received the least attention among the GOP candidates seeking a Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat in 2012.
But the 15-year state lawmaker made an attention-grabbing claim about federal health reforms, which he and other Republicans label as "Obamacare," in an opinion piece published Jan. 9, 2012.
Writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Lasee referenced a study of President Barack Obama’s initiative on Wisconsin. He said that according to the study, "nearly 90 percent of people with (health) insurance will have their costs go up by more than 30 percent."
We don’t know whether the study’s prediction will turn out to be accurate.
But what about Lasee’s characterization of the study? Do nearly 90 percent of people in Wisconsin who have health insurance face a cost increase of more than 30 percent?
Lasee’s campaign for the seat held by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl has been overshadowed by those of his fellow Republicans: former govenor Tommy Thompson, former congressman Mark Neumann and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
By attacking "Obamacare," Lasee is taking on the landmark health care reform that became law in 2010, although many provisions don’t take effect until 2014. As our colleagues at PolitiFact National have explained, the law leaves in place existing insurance systems -- employer-provided insurance, Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor -- while reducing the number of uninsured by expanding Medicaid and offering subsidies to help those with modest incomes buy insurance. The law also requires almost every American to acquire insurance or pay a fine, a provision that has been challenged and will result in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the law’s constitutionality in June 2012.
Lasee is among countless people who have debated how much folks will have to pay for health insurance once Obama’s plan fully takes effect.
The study Lasee cited in making his claim was commissioned by the administration of Wisconsin’s previous governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, who was succeeded by Republican Scott Walker in January 2011.
Released in July 2011, the study was done by Gorman Actuarial, a Massachusetts firm specializing in health insurance, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology health economist Jonathan Gruber.
When we asked Lasee’s office for evidence to back his statement about cost, chief of staff Robert Kovach cited a summary of the study produced by the Walker administration -- which opposes the reform law.
The summary says 87 percent of people in Wisconsin who buy their own health insurance -- rather than getting it from an employer or the government -- will see their premiums increase an average of 30 percent.
But there’s a big problem right off the bat: Lasee said the 30 percent cost increase applies to all Wisconsinites who have health insurance. The summary he cites refers to the much smaller group of people who buy their own insurance.
In any case, rather than relying on the summary, let’s go to the study itself.
It says that as of 2009, 4 million people in Wisconsin under age 65 had health insurance. That included more than 3 million who got insurance from their employer and only 180,000 -- or just 4 percent -- who bought it on their own.
Of that small group, 87 percent will see their premiums increase an average of 41 percent once federal health care reform fully takes effect, the study says.
Even at that, as the Journal Sentinel pointed out in its story about the study, the cost estimate isn't an apples-to-apples comparison because, for many people, the higher costs will bring higher benefits. Some people will pay more because they will be able to afford health plans with better benefits; some will be forced to buy more insurance than they want; and those who can afford insurance now but opt not to buy it will be required to buy it.
We went back to Kovach, Lasee’s aide, who acknowledged that the figures Lasee cited misquote the study. He said he believes Lasee’s larger point was that most people in Wisconsin with health insurance will pay more for it under federal health care reform. But that remains to be seen.
Lasee stated that, according to a study of the impact of federal health care reform on Wisconsin, "nearly 90 percent of people with insurance will have their costs go up by more than 30 percent."
Those figures apply only to the fraction of people who buy their own health insurance, not to all Wisconsinites with insurance. And Lasee admitted he misquoted the study.
We rate Lasee’s statement False.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State wise to wait and see fate of health reform law," Jan. 9, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Age, wage to play big roles in health cost," Aug. 28, 2011
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker to return $38 million earmarked for health exchanges," Jan. 18, 2012
Interview and email interview, Sen. Frank Lasee chief of staff Robert Kovach, Jan. 17 and 18, 2012
Gorman Actuarial, "The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Wisconsin’s Health Insurance Market," July 18, 2011
Interview and email interview, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor Jonathan Gruber, Jan. 18, 2012
PolitiFact.com, "Mitt Romney repeats claim that repealing health law saves $95 billion a year," Jan. 8, 2012
Wisconsin Office of Free Market Health Care, "Federal health care reform impacts on Wisconsin"
New York Times, "Justices to hear health care case as race heats up," Nov. 14, 2011
Capital Times, "Economist Jonathan Gruber says state officials spun the results of his health care reform study," Aug. 27, 2011
Capital Times, "Walker’s health director advised states to drop Medicaid, fight feds’ reform," Jan. 7, 2011
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