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Washington Post Gives Kamala Harris Four Pinocchios for False Claim on GOP Health Care Bill

Kamala Harris / Getty Images
• May 11, 2017 10:33 am

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The Washington Post fact checker gave Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) four Pinocchios for claiming that 129 million people with pre-existing conditions could lose insurance coverage under the House Republican health care plan, indicating the paper found her statement to be false.

Harris tweeted on May 4 that the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to replace Obamacare that passed the House last week, will "destroy lives" and lead health insurers to deny coverage to millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions if it becomes law.

The Post on Wednesday fact checked Harris' claim and originally gave it three Pinocchios, meaning the statement is "mostly false," but later updated its rating to four Pinocchios, the lowest mark possible. The paper had initially focused on the "129 million" number but ignored the second part of Harris' tweet, that people "could be denied coverage," which changed the rating.

Regarding Harris' "129 million" figure, the Post calculated that the number of Americans at risk of being denied coverage is much smaller, approximately 2.5 million individuals. Most Americans have insurance through employer-provided plans, Medicare, or Medicaid, none of which will be affected by the bill in this context.

The Republican plan does not deny the coverage Obamacare promised to those with pre-existing conditions, the fact check found. In fact, the American Health Care Act includes the following provision: "nothing in this act shall be construed as permitting health insurance issuers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions."

The Post also said Harris' staff tried to use terms such as "could" in the senator's tweet to avoid being tied to its claims.

The use of the word "could" does not get Harris off the hook. As currently drafted, the provision affects a relatively small portion of the health insurance market–and even then several factors would need to play out before a person faced an issue. Moreover, the Republican plan specifically sets aside billions of dollars to help states create high-risk or invisible health pools to assist people if their health condition results in higher premiums or loss of coverage during the one-year transition period. It's a valid question about whether the funding is adequate, but that's different than assuming there is no funding at all.

Yet Harris uses a very high figure to suggest that everyone with a preexisting condition is at risk. The gap between her number and the reality of who might be affected is too large to ignore.