ELECTION 2020

Fact Checker: Rita Hart's mask claim falls short

Rita Hart answers a question during an Oct. 8 debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks moderated by The Gazette's James Q. L
Rita Hart answers a question during an Oct. 8 debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks moderated by The Gazette’s James Q. Lynch and KCRG-TV9’s Chris Earl in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Democrat Rita Hart and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, candidates for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, squared off in an hourlong debate Oct. 8 in Cedar Rapids.

In this check, we’ll examine two debate claims by Hart, a farmer and retired teacher.

Analysis

Claim 1: Hart said: “Sen. Miller-Meeks, you stood on the Senate floor and told your Senate colleagues they did not need to wear a mask.”

When we asked Hart’s campaign staff where she got information for this claim, they pointed to a June 4 exchange in the Iowa Senate in which Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, criticized Republicans not wearing masks during floor debate.

Graded a C

Miller-Meeks stood to defend her decision to go maskless when at least 6 feet from other people.

“Scientifically, COVID-19 coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is not aerosolized so that’s why you can have a physical separation of 6 feet,” Miller-Meeks said June 4.

Miller-Meeks was wrong about the virus not being airborne, but she wasn’t alone. The World Health Organization and other groups revised their recommendations on mask use after evidence about the virus being transmitted by droplets in the air.

She went on to say that though she wasn’t wearing a mask on the Senate floor, she would honor the wishes of others when in proximity.

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“I will not approach you without wearing a mask if that’s how you choose for me to interact with you and I will respect that,” she said.

Grade: We give Hart a D on this claim. Miller-Meeks told Iowa senators in June why she wasn’t wearing a mask, but she said she honored their decision to mask up. Hart avoids an F because Miller-Meeks is a physician and former public health director and some other senators could consider her statements medical advice.

Claim 2: Later in the debate, Hart defended her vote in favor of 2018 legislation that allowed Wellmark and the Iowa Farm Bureau to create “skinny” heath care plans not subject to state and federal regulations. Hart, who served in the Iowa Senate from 2013 to 2019, was one of few Democrats to support the GOP proposal.

“Not one person lost their health care because of this bill,” Hart said Oct. 8.

The Fact Checker considered whether to skip this statement based on our criteria that claims be independently verifiable. It’s hard to show how legislation affects individuals unless the individuals complain publicly or there’s some sort of government review.

A May 9, 2019, complaint on the Better Business Bureau’s page for Farm Bureau Financial Services alleges Farm Bureau threatened to revoke the person’s health insurance policy because of the possibility he or she had a preexisting condition that was not disclosed.

This is an anonymous complaint, so we can’t verify its accuracy. It does make us think it’s plausible at least one person could have lost coverage under the “skinny” plans. However, the policies didn’t seem to cause major problems for customers.

“We don’t see the Farm Bureau plan as having much impact at all on those that are otherwise served by the ACA plans,” Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen told The Gazette in December 2018. “They are an answer for those families who are above the 400 percent federal poverty level.”

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office’s has not received any consumer complaints related to the plans, spokesman Lynn Hicks said Thursday.

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Grade: We give Hart a B on this claim. While we can’t confirm not one person lost coverage because of the health care plans she supported, evidence suggests effects were minimal.

Conclusion

Hart’s average for these two debate claims is a C.

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.

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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.