Columbus Dispatch Lies to Hype Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

Advocacy for the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in the pages of The Columbus Dispatch has progressed from slanted coverage to outright deception, with the paper spinning a recent study as proof the Obamacare expansion would save taxpayers money.

On August 13, legislators were presented Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO) research suggesting Ohio could cover its projected Medicaid expansion costs with reforms capping Medicaid spending growth.

“Medicaid expansion would cost Ohio less than doing nothing, study shows,” Dispatch reporter Joe Vardon’s incredible August 13 story was headlined.

“Capping the rate of growth on Medicaid spending and expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act to cover more poor Ohioans would be less expensive than doing nothing, according to a new study presented to a Senate subcommittee today,” Vardon wrote in the lede.

Capping spending growth and implementing the Obamacare Medicaid expansion are two entirely different things. The HPIO study modeled state Medicaid spending with the Obamacare expansion assuming two different – and very ambitious – growth caps, because that’s what legislators requested.

The study would have projected far greater savings with a cap on Ohio’s Medicaid spending growth and no Obamacare expansion, but that fact does not serve the Dispatch’s purposes.

The Dispatch editorial board wants the Obamacare expansion, so Vardon’s story dishonestly muddled expansion and reform to produce a headline that was simply false – the next logical step after seven months of referencing a prior HPIO study based on similarly weak premises.

Without explanation, on August 14 the headline of Vardon’s story was changed to “Ohio could save and expand Medicaid, study says.”

While the new headline was much less misleading than the original, the opening paragraph was changed to remove any reference to spending caps.

“The state could expand its Medicaid program to cover more poor Ohioans and save money over the long haul, according to a new study presented yesterday to a Senate subcommittee,” the surreptitiously edited version of the story read.

Not until the third paragraph did Vardon note, “But those savings would come in part by limiting the growth in Medicaid spending to 3.5 or 4 percent annually.”

The rewritten story also quoted Greg Lawson of The Buckeye Institute, who said, “the numbers seem to be reasonable if you assume 3.5 percent growth.”

After the story was edited, Vardon linked to it from Twitter with a note that “Conservative says #Medicaid expansion savings numbers ‘seem to be reasonable,'” stripping context from Lawson’s quote in a way that promoted the Obamacare expansion.

Before Vardon’s August 13 story was rewritten, its deceptive headline was shared by Vardon as well as reporters Randy Ludlow and Alan Johnson. Senior editor Joe Hallett, who has slammed Medicaid expansion critics as “bent on society’s regression,” also shared the original version of the story.

The Obamacare Medicaid expansion is backed by Republican Governor John Kasich, to whom Dispatch publisher John Wolfe and his wife have donated $24,000 this year.

Previous Dispatch news coverage has helped Gov. Kasich mislead Ohioans by repeating his false Obamacare funding rhetoric without asking any obvious questions.

Like every other large newspaper in the state, the Dispatch has embargoed broad swaths of research undermining the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. According to the editors, opposition to the policy is “purely ideological.”