Government

Fact Checker: PAC ad attacks Mariannette Miller-Meeks over Obamacare

An ad from Women Vote! - a Super PAC of Emily's List - attacks Republican congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Mee
An ad from Women Vote! — a Super PAC of Emily’s List — attacks Republican congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks. (Screen capture)

Voters in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District are starting to see a lot more political ads in the open-seat race between Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart.

One of those ads is by Women Vote!, a Super PAC of Emily’s List, a network formed in 1985 with the goal of electing more pro-abortion rights Democratic women to office. The 30-second ad starts by mentioning COVID-19 and showing images of damage from the Aug. 10 derecho.

“During a pandemic, in the wake of a disaster, losing your health insurance would be devastating,” the voice says.

Graded a B

The ad claims “Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who took thousands from big insurance, supported a plan that could cost 187,000 Iowans their coverage or let insurers deny it because of preexisting conditions, like diabetes.”

Analysis

We’re going to break this ad into four claims.

Claim 1: The first, which appears as screen text, says Miller-Meeks accepted $304,000 in campaign donations from the insurance and health care industries. Women Vote! gets this number by adding together two numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money donated to U.S. House and Senate candidates using filings to the Federal Election Commission.

First, the center’s Open Secrets website shows Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist and former Iowa Department of Public Health director, accepted, in the course of her political career, $297,582 in donations from people and PACs in the health industry. Miller-Meeks has run unsuccessfully for the 2nd District seat three other times before 2020.

Open Secrets reported Miller-Meeks accepted $12,405 from donors in the finance/insurance/real estate industry. Together, that equals $309,987, which is higher than the total in the ad because Women Vote! pulled the data for the ad on Aug. 21. Grade: A

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Claim 2: The second claim is that Miller-Meeks “supported a plan that could cost 187,000 Iowans their coverage.” The ad doesn’t say specifically which plan they’re talking about, but a citation to a Center for American Progress article talks about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Miller-Meeks has never been in Congress, so she didn’t vote against the act when it was approved in 2010. But she did say in 2014, when she was running for the 2nd District against incumbent Democrat Dave Loebsack, she supported an overhaul or repeal of the law.

“Looking at the Affordable Care Act, there are ways we can change it, modify it, and/or, if possible, repeal it, but you have to gain the Senate, but at least, let’s make it work for people,” Miller-Meeks said in a Feb. 27, 2014, article in the Daily Iowan.

She also tweeted her opposition to the law while she was state Public Health director, the Des Moines Register reported in 2014.

In a debate Thursday, Miller-Meeks said she always has supported protections for preexisting conditions and that any repeal would have to come with a new health care law, the Quad-City Times reported.

“It just doesn’t make sense that we’re going to jerk this away without a plan in place,” she said.

So the question is how many Iowans would lose coverage if the health law was repealed.

This number comes from two groups.

First are Iowans enrolled in health care exchanges through the act, of which there were 49,210 in 2019, The Gazette reported. The number came from a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Second are Iowans who are enrolled in the Iowa Health and Wellness Program, which is the state’s expansion of Medicaid allowed through the act. There were 195,059 Iowans in the most recent enrollment, the Iowa Department of Human Services reported.

These two numbers add up to 244,269 Iowans who could lose their health care coverage if the law was repealed.

Grade: Women Vote! is right — underplaying even — the number of Iowans who depend on the Affordable Care Art for health care and Miller-Meeks’s past comments about being willing to consider repeal. We give this claim an A.

Claim 3: The third claim is that Miller-Meeks supported a plan that would allow insurers to deny health care coverage because of preexisting conditions, including diabetes.

Several Republican-proposed bills would have offered less protection for people with preexisting conditions, FactCheck.org reported in April 2019. The American Health Care Act, for example, would have required insurers to offer coverage despite preexisting conditions, but they could charge more in some cases. The House passed the legislation in 2017, but the Senate never voted on it.

The House GOP bill also would have given states the option of setting their own list of essential benefits insurance companies had to cover, which could mean some services wouldn’t be covered, FactCheck.org reported. Grade: A

Claim 4: The last claim in the ad is about insulin availability and seems to have been thrown in because of the reference to diabetes. The announcer says, “As Iowans lack access to safe medications like insulin,” and the text says “An insulin crisis is sweeping the city.” The last part is a line from an Aug. 16 article in Iowa Starting Line, a left-leaning online publication, and refers to Cedar Rapids after the derecho.

The article doesn’t provide evidence of a shortage of insulin in Cedar Rapids or explain what they mean by a crisis. The reporter does interview a resident who was worried about insulin spoilage without refrigeration.

“My husband is diabetic and he’s scaring me because he’s using his insulin that’s been unrefrigerated since Monday,” Ramona Spencer, a resident at Oak Hill apartments, told a Starting Line reporter. The Gazette talked with other Cedar Rapidians who had similar concerns.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The Fact Checker checked with UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital, which said there hasn’t been a shortage of insulin even during the derecho. Pharmacy officials there said insulin may be stored outside a refrigerator for up to 28 days, as long as it’s not excessively hot, spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo said.

Grade: It’s possible people were not able to get to a pharmacy for refills during the storm or were worried about spoilage, but that doesn’t amount to a widespread crisis as portrayed in the ad. We give Women Vote! a D on this claim. Conclusion

The attacks in this ad against Mariannette Miller-Meeks are similar to those against other Republicans in congressional races across the country. PolitiFact scored a nearly identical ad “true” in the 7th District contest in Virginia.

That ad says Republican challenger Nick Frietas “supports a plan letting insurance companies deny coverage for preexisting conditions like asthma or diabetes.”

While Miller-Meeks hasn’t served in Congress and hasn’t had a chance to vote on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, she has been vocal about wanting to get rid of it.

If Women Vote! had stopped after the first three claims, the group would have gotten an A overall. But the fourth claim, which got a D, sinks the check to a B.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan of The Gazette.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.