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In an unexpectedly tight race, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is doing everything he can to paint his opponent -- independent Greg Orman -- as a liberal henchman.
One of Roberts’ favorite points is Orman’s stance on the Affordable Care Act. Orman says he does not support the health care law, but he also says pushing legislation to repeal it is impractical, because President Barack Obama would simply veto it.
In a recent Web video, Roberts treats that view as support for Obamacare.
The ad starts out with video of Orman shaking hands with constituents, one of whom asks him a question about repealing Obamacare. Orman replies, "That’s an interesting question," and moves on down the line.
"Greg Orman won't repeal Obamacare," the ad’s narrator says, "even though 20,000 Kansans lost their health insurance because of it."
Roberts was expected to easily win a fourth term (the last time Kansas elected a Democrat to the Senate was in 1932). Then, Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out, and independent Orman surged in the polls. Now the race is a toss-up. Some see a Roberts win as necessary for Republican Senate control in 2015.
Both candidates say they do not support Obama’s health care law, but we wanted to know how the law had affected Kansas -- did 20,000 people really lose their health insurance?
The answer, it seems, is no.
How many Kansans lost insurance?
We asked Linda Sheppard, health policy adviser for the Kansas Insurance Department, how many Kansans had lost their insurance due to Obamacare. She said the state does not require health insurance carriers to report when people go on or off coverage, so there’s no way to definitively know the answer.
However, Sheppard said insurance carriers do have to check in with the department when they decide to terminate a policy. So 20,000 people losing health insurance would have likely come to her attention.
"We are not aware of any wide-scale cancellation of policies," she said.
Here’s what happened. About a year ago, in October 2013, Kansas’ largest insurance carrier -- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas -- sent letters to about 9,450 policyholders, according to numerous news reports. Those members would be unable to renew their plans for 2014 because those plans do not comply with new standards under the Affordable Care Act.
Sheppard told us there are no official numbers for how many people received these notices from insurance carriers other than Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas.
Roberts’ ad cites the 20,000 figure from an October 2013 story out of Kansas Watchdog, a conservative news website. That story says Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (which is primarily based in Missouri but also serves two Kansas counties) sent out notices to about 10,000 Kansan policyholders, on top of the 9,450 from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas.
For Roberts, this is where the story ends. But in reality, the thousands of people who received these letters did not end up without insurance.
The following November -- after the failed roll out of HealthCare.gov (Kansas uses the federal marketplace) -- Obama announced that people who had recieved these nonrenewal notices could keep their policies through 2014.
Then in March of this year, Kansas agreed to another transitional policy that allowed all of these policies to continue through 2016.
It’s Sheppard’s understanding that Kansas insurance companies turned around and retracted those nonrenewal notices -- meaning the thousands of people who received those notices were able to keep their health insurance.
Retracting the nonrenewal notices caused some behind-the-scenes challenges for the carriers, but "for the consumer it was pretty easy," said Scott Brunner, senior analyst at the Kansas Health Institute, a nonprofit think tank.
Of course, these policyholders could have chosen not to renew. They could have picked a different plan, switched to a different provider or dropped insurance altogether -- but they were not forced out of health insurance by the Affordable Care Act.
"It is disingenuous to focus on those who lost insurance without acknowledging that it doesn’t mean they are currently (uninsured)," said Roberta Riportella, a professor of community health at Kansas State University who supports the Affordable Care Act.
Roberts’ ad also ignores that the number of uninsured Kansans who have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Because the state does not meticulously track the number of insured folks, and the law only became fully implemented this year, it is hard to know with certainty how many people gained insurance as a result of Obamacare.
But about 57,000 Kansans are now enrolled in the health insurance marketplace, Riportella said. If Kansas follows national estimates, then roughly half of those people were previously uninsured.
There’s no evidence to suggest that more people are uninsured now than before the Affordable Care Act was implemented, Brunner said.
"The expectation would be that with the Affordable Care Act that the number would continue to decline," he said.
Roberts said, "20,000 Kansans lost their health insurance because of (Obamacare)."
There’s no official information to corroborate Roberts’ claim. Several thousand Kansans received notices that their insurance plans could not be renewed because they did not comply with Obamacare standards, but the notices were retracted about a month later. Meanwhile, about 57,000 Kansans obtained insurance on HealthCare.gov. If the state follows the national trend, roughly half of these people were uninsured before the law.
We rate Roberts’ claim False.
Roberts for Senate, "An Interesting Question," Oct. 1, 2014
Kansas Watchdog, "Broken promise: Obamacare cancels almost 20,000 Kansas health care plans," Oct. 31, 2013
Kansas Watchdog, "Kansas Obamacare enrollment dwarfed by nearly 20,000 cancellations," Nov. 14, 2013
Topeka Capital-Journal, "Blue Cross phasing out some insurance plans due to ACA," Oct. 30, 2014
KMBC, "Blue Cross Blue Shield to restore canceled Kansas policies," Nov. 19, 2013
Associated Press, "Policy notifications and current status, by state," Dec. 26, 2013
Kansas Insurance Department, press release, March 6, 2014
Kansas Health Institute, "Health Insurance Coverage in Kansas," Dec. 2013
Kansas Health Institute, Annual Insurance Update, July 7, 2014
Phone interview, Linda Sheppard, health policy adviser at the Kansas Insurance Department, Oct. 9, 2014
Phone interview, Scott Brunner, senior analyst at the Kansas Health Institute, Oct. 9, 2014
Email interview, Roberta Riportella, professor of community health at Kansas State University, Oct. 9, 2014
Email interview, Tami Gurley-Calvez, professor of health economics at University of Kansas, Oct. 9, 2014
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