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Media's Medicaid story makes for great fiction

Media's Medicaid story makes for great fiction

Wayne Hoffman
July 6, 2018
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July 6, 2018

Those who support making more Idahoans dependent on government healthcare rallied Friday at the Statehouse. They were celebrating their presumptive victory of getting enough signatures to put Medicaid expansion to a vote in November. The media joined the party, and they hailed it as a win for the Davids against the Goliaths.

To hear certain members of the press tell it, the Davids are the advocates for the marginalized working poor, advocates who have tried for years to save people from the death sentences imposed by conservative state legislators. The Goliaths are played by the evil anti-Medicaid expansion legislators and their allies, who have heretofore successfully fended off the diminutive Davids.

Conservatives had the temerity, complain media pundits, to vote twice in 2018 to deny Medicaid expansion a full debate on the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives while people were dying. Seeking to save lives, the plucky and ever resourceful Davids became petition-signature gatherers, piled into an aging RV, and defied the odds by getting 60,000 people in more than half of the state’s legislative districts to sign petitions to put the Medicaid expansion issue to a vote.

It’s a great narrative, filled with heroes, victims, and villains. Unfortunately, it’s also only partially true. The truth, regretfully, isn’t as interesting to the media as the fiction of scrappy heroes eking out an unlikely victory against formidable forces as lives hung in the balance.

Here’s what Medicaid expansion is really about and who is behind it. An out-of-state leftist organization has been fueling Idaho’s Medicaid expansion efforts. The face behind the curtain is called the Fairness Project. According to media accounts, the Fairness Project is a social-welfare group that gets its money from labor unions and uses the money to press for causes via ballot measures in states and cities across the country.

The Fairness Project has been working to get Medicaid expanded by ballot in Idaho as well as Utah and Nebraska. In 2017, the Fairness Project put Obamacare expansion on the ballot in Maine and residents there approved it. The state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, is blocking expansion until state lawmakers identify a stable funding stream.

The Fairness Project’s leader has been quoted as saying it’s time to end talk of repealing Obamacare and instead focus on expanding it. That might explain why the out-of-state group spent more than half a million dollars to support Idaho’s ballot initiative, far and away the biggest financial force behind the proposal. Reclaim Idaho, the oft-discussed fabled volunteers of our state’s Medicaid expansion, didn’t even provide 10 percent of the funds to advance the measure.

Advancing government-run healthcare via political efforts is only part of the Fairness Project’s mission. The group has also backed successful efforts to raise the minimum wage and put in place state and local government mandates, as concern sick-pay and leave policies, for businesses.

This fall, the Fairness Project will be joined by other special interests to pass Medicaid expansion. Hospitals, doctors, labor unions, and business lobby organizations will collectively spend an easy seven figures to convince Idaho voters to expand Obamacare in Idaho, easily dwarfing the efforts of Medicaid expansions volunteers.

David Harsanyi, an editor at The Federalist, wrote, “If we’re going to make collective national choices, what people know and what they think they know matters.” The same is true at the state level. It’s important that voters possess a clear understanding of what Medicaid expansion entails, its total price tag, and alternatives to the proposal. The current discussion falls short. Here's my challenge to the mainstream media through the November election: Focus on the substantive issues related to Medicaid expansion, not the half-baked David versus Goliath story.

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