By Anthony Cave June 10, 2016

John McCain ad claims some Arizonans may have no healthcare choice

Sen. John McCain has picked up his attacks on the Affordable Care Act recently, making the law synonymous with his Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff.

A May 17 attack ad from McCain against Kirkpatrick, who’s running for McCain’s Senate seat, is a case in point.

In addition to the claim that the healthcare law is her "proudest" vote, the ad’s on-screen text states, "30,000 Arizonans may have no choice" for healthcare coverage, citing the departure of UnitedHealthCare, the nation’s largest insurer, from the state’s marketplace.

"That’s devastating, especially to rural counties," the ad’s narrator points out.  

While folks who have United will be insured through Dec. 31, 2016, we wondered whether thousands of Arizonans really won’t have a health care coverage choice come 2017.  (No coverage results in a penalty.)

Background

United announced in April that it would stop Affordable Care Act coverage in Arizona - and most of the 34 states it has plans in - by year’s end.

May 11 was the deadline for health insurers to submit their 2017 Affordable Care Act state coverage plans to the federal government, which runs HealthCare.gov. In eight rural Arizona counties - Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pinal, Santa Cruz, Yavapai and Yuma - only one health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, signed up to cover individuals.

Right now, only United and Blue Cross offer health insurance plans across all eight counties.

How many insured people in these counties stand to be affected in 2017? Those are the people who will only get to choose Blue Cross.

People insured may vary

Featured Fact-check

McCain campaign spokeswoman Lorna Romero pointed us to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data for insured people in those eight counties.

According to the data, 30,761 people across all eight counties bought coverage through the exchange as of Feb. 1, 2016.

However, Allen Gjersvig, director of Enrollment Services at Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, a umbrella group for healthcare organizations that help people sign up for coverage, said the numbers do not specifically note how many people have either United or Blue Cross.

"It’s a snapshot, we don’t know what plan they chose," Gjersvig said.

We asked Blue Cross Blue Shield specifically how many people currently have health insurance plans - and what plans they expect to offer in 2017 - in those eight counties, but they declined to provide those details, citing the "competitive landscape."  

"There are counties and consumers that will, as it stands right now, see only one insurance company," Gjersvig said. "Blue Cross has filed rates for all counties in Arizona."  

It’s worth pointing out that health insurance coverage options in rural areas are limited overall. Insurers note that people in rural areas tend to be sicker and rack up more health care costs. But rural areas also have fewer physicians than urban areas.

Our ruling

McCain’s campaign ad said, "30,000 Arizonans may have no choice" for Affordable Care Act coverage.

The 30,000 number is just a snapshot of how many people have bought coverage through the exchange in those eight Arizona counties. That could change, plus it's based on months old data.

But, the ad’s claim is largely correct. In 2017, Blue Cross Blue Shield stands to be the lone health insurer for Arizonans seeking health insurance in those counties.

We rate the ad’s claim as Mostly True.

Our Sources

PolitiFact TV Ad Archive, "Ann Kirkpatrick’s proudest moment," accessed June 9, 2016

CNN Money, "UnitedHealthCare to exit most Obamacare exchanges," April 19, 2016

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Plan selections by zip code and county in the health insurance marketplace: March 2016," accessed June 8, 2016

The Wall Street Journal, "Insurance options dwindle in some rural regions," May 15, 2016

The Washington Post, "UnitedHealth Group to exit Obamacare exchanges in all but a ‘handful’ of states," April 19, 2016

ABC15, "Ann Kirkpatrick to challenge John McCain for U.S. Senate," May 26, 2016

HealthCare.gov, "The fee for not having health insurance," accessed June 8, 2016  

Reuters, "Rural Americans face greater lack of healthcare access," July 27, 2011

Arizona Department of Insurance, "Marketplace Qualified Health Plans," May 25, 2016

Interview with McCain campaign spokeswoman Lorna Romero, May 31, 2016

Interview with Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers Director of Enrollment Services Allen Gjersvig, June 7, 2016

Interview with Blue Cross Blue Shield Arizona spokeswoman Kendra Schmitt, June 8, 2016

Interview with Georgetown University Senior Research Professor Sabrina Corlette, June 9, 2016

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John McCain ad claims some Arizonans may have no healthcare choice

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