Story by Mike Dennison, MTN News
HELENA- In Montana’s U.S. Senate race, health care will be a key issue – and the latest broadcast ad from Democratic incumbent Jon Tester takes some hard shots at Republican Matt Rosendale, accusing him of “making health care less affordable.”
The Tester ad’s claims are based on actions and positions Rosendale has taken as state insurance commissioner and a state senator – most notably, his outspoken opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare.”
However, it overstates some of those actions and their effects.
The ad features freelance writer and photographer Paula McGarvey from Butte, who has fought breast cancer for a decade. Here’s a closer look at the ad’s claims and the facts behind them:
As insurance commissioner, Rosendale “pushed to let insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions”: The Tester campaign says this allegation is based on Rosendale’s push to repeal the ACA, which prohibits health insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or charging more money to cover them.
It also notes that Rosendale has called for expanding “short-term” plans, and allowed health-care sharing ministries in Montana, both of which could limit coverage of pre-existing conditions.
So, Rosendale is supporting policies that could lead to insurers choosing not to cover pre-existing conditions.
However, he also has said that while he wants to repeal the ACA and have less mandates for health coverage, he still would “fight for health-care reform that protects Montanans with pre-existing conditions.”
Rosendale “hired an insurance industry lobbyist to help run his office”: Upon becoming insurance commissioner, Rosendale appointed Bob Biskupiak as deputy insurance commissioner. Biskupiak is the former head of the Independent Insurance Agents of Montana, a lobby group that represents insurance agents, rather than insurance companies.
Rosendale “rubber-stamped 23 percent increases in premiums”: This claim is based on Rosendale’s actions as insurance commissioner in 2017, reviewing proposed health insurance rates for policies on the individual market, which serves 5 percent to 7 percent of Montanans.
The insurance commissioner has the power to review premium changes proposed by health insurers for these policies. He or she can say whether the increases are excessive or unjustified, but has no power to change them. The companies can file what rates they choose.
Last year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, the state’s largest private insurer, proposed an average rate increase for these policies of 23 percent. Rosendale held hearings on the increases, but didn’t officially object to them, and they took effect for 2018.
Tester notes that in 2016, then-Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen did object to a substantial proposed increase from Blue Cross, and the company then decided to slightly reduce the increase.
Rosendale “is making health care less affordable”: The truth of this claim depends largely on how one chooses to evaluate the ACA and its effects.
Rosendale notes, correctly, that Tester voted for the ACA in 2010 and that since it main elements took effect in 2013, most policies on the individual market have dramatically increased in price.
A Trump administration report last year said these policy premiums increased an average of 133 percent from 2013 to 2017 in Montana.
“Tester broke our health-care system when he voted for Obamacare and gave us these skyrocketing premiums and out-of-control deductibles,” the Rosendale campaign says.
However, those policies serve only 5 percent to 7 percent of the population in Montana – and 85 percent of Montanans buying these policies are receiving federal subsidies to offset the cost.
Most people covered by Medicare or private, group-health plans have seen minimal impacts from the ACA.
And, the ACA, through Medicaid expansion, has extended government-financed health coverage to nearly 100,000 low-income Montana adults.