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An expert's heroic fact-checking of Mitch McConnell on Obamacare

An expert's heroic fact-checking of Mitch McConnell on Obamacare
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes prepare to start their campaign debate on Monday. (Pool / Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is facing a stiff reelection challenge this year, has stuck to his stated determination to repeal the Affordable Care Act if his party takes control of the Senate in the next election.

This is a curious and delicate position for McConnell to hold, because his home state is one of the shining beacons of the ACA's rollout. The Kentucky health insurance exchange, Kynect, is enormously popular among Kentuckians. Some 527,000 residents have signed up for qualified health plans or Medicaid, which the state expanded.

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Much of the credit belongs to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, so don't expect much acknowledgment from McConnell. Still, the extent to which McConnell twisted facts and figures on the ACA during his debate Monday with challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes amazed knowledgeable observers, perhaps none more than Charles Gaba, proprietor of the indispensable ACASignups website.

So Gaba sat down to fact-check every misstatement. He identified 13 uttered during about a five-minute discussion of the ACA, plus about 14 "questionable/confusing statements by either him or the moderator." Many of the misstatements -- heck, call them lies, as Gaba does -- are part of discredited Republican attacks on the ACA going back years; what's shocking is that McConnell is still hauling them out.

It's also disappointing that Grimes failed to mount a sufficiently powerful defense of the law; the pusillanimous Democrats' failure to stand up for a prime policy achievement is a topic we've covered before.

You should examine Gaba's annotation of McConnell's performance, which incorporates some well-chosen words not suitable for this family blog. But here's a sampling of some high points:

--McConnell dismissed Kynect as "a website." It's not; it's a full-featured exchange that has delivered coverage to more than a half-million Kentuckians. McConnell denied Grimes' assertion that Kynect had served more than 500,000 residents. Gaba assumes he's subtracting the residents who obtained Medicaid coverage through Kynect. Gaba: "People on Medicaid apparently don't count as human beings."

--McConnell claimed the Congressional Budget Office "estimates 2.5 million jobs would be lost" because of the ACA. This is a lie. As Gaba points out, the CBO said the law would allow up to 2.5 million workers to leave their jobs or retire. This is because it eliminates "job lock," which tied workers to otherwise unwanted jobs because that was the only way they could get health insurance. Republicans disliked job-lock -- until they realized that its elimination was an effect of the ACA.

--People are "paying more for less" and hospitals are facing more "uncompensated care." Misleading and wrong on both counts. The rate of premium increase for 2015 under the ACA is averaging 6%, and in many states much less -- compared with average increases in the individual market of 10% a year before the ACA. And the new rates are almost always for better coverage. Hospital uncompensated care costs will be $5.7 billion less this year than they would have been without the ACA, a 16% drop from last year.

--McConnell: "They don't want to tell you" how many people got insurance via Kynect after having their old policies canceled. He's implying, of course, that most Kynect enrollees already had insurance. He's wrong: Seventy-five percent of all Kynect enrollees were previously uninsured.

McConnell's performance demonstrates nothing but pure partisan cynicism. He's the senior U.S. senator from a state whose experience with Obamacare has been an unalloyed positive, benefiting more than a half-million constituents.

Yet he's campaigning to cut them off, dooming many of them to a return to a condition in which health insurance could be denied, cut off or pitched beyond their capacity to pay, all at the whim of the insurance industry. And he's doing so by displaying some of the rankest ignorance about a federal law that any elected official has shown in years. If this is a smart electoral strategy, the poli-sci books will need to be rewritten.

Keep up to date with the Economy Hub. Follow @hiltzikm on Twitter, see our Facebook page, or email mhiltzik@latimes.com.

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