GOP’s Hanger Chides Poll On Medicaid

Senator Questions Design Of CNU Survey

Posted: April 26, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, on Friday pushed back against a Christopher Newport University poll that showed Virginia voters oppose Medicaid expansion.

In a rare media advisory from his office, the senator — one of only three Senate Republicans who favor a form of health care expansion through private insurance — shared a letter he sent to Quentin Kidd, the director of CNU’s Wason Center for Public Policy. In it, Hanger says the poll released Thursday “amounted to a not so subtle ‘push poll’” because the question regarding the private plan expansion is framed as being an idea from Democrats.

According to the poll’s results, Virginia voters oppose expansion 53 percent to 41 percent.

“I tend to take things in stride, recognizing that the ‘wind blows both ways’ and opinions shift drastically depending on the focus of the moment. However, I do want to take this opportunity to express significant concern over the design of your poll,” Hanger wrote. “Perhaps I am overly sensitive but it seems that if you say in your question pointedly that the Democrats want to expand and the Republicans don’t want to, that you are prejudicing the outcome.

“My issue is that I have been from the very beginning a leader in the push to reform Medicaid and then set up a mechanism to expand coverage using the federal dollars that are available for this purpose. As you are aware, I am a REPUBLICAN!”

The Senate and GOP-led House of Delegates, which adamantly opposes expansion, have yet to reach a deal on a state budget, with a July 1 deadline looming. The major sticking point is whether to expand Medicaid, either outright or through the Senate’s plan called Marketplace Virginia.

In a response to Hanger on Friday afternoon, Kidd said he constructed the question in a way to show how the positions in the General Assembly “overwhelmingly fall along party lines,” and he wanted that to be clear to respondents.

“My goal is to inform the public debate and to bring the public’s view into the debate, as much as possible,” he wrote. “My personal position on any given issue is irrelevant to this work. I may not always write the perfect question (who does), and I certainly make mistakes (as we all do), but I have never and will never engage in push polling (whether subtle or not so subtle) or purposefully disseminate misinformation. To do either of those things would be counter to everything I stand for.”

Misinformed?

Hanger’s letter repeats what he’s been saying in interviews throughout the year: Partisan politics are getting in the way of meaningful debate, and the media feeds the situation by pitting Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the rest of his party against House Republicans.

He’s also bemoaned the time and money spent by outside groups, such as the conservative Americans for Prosperity, in Virginia and in his district to oppose expansion.

“The real debate needs to get refocused on viable options for reforming our [health care] delivery system in Virginia so that people don’t have to bankrupt their family over a broken arm or die prematurely because they put off a timely treatment that they feared they couldn’t afford,” Hanger wrote.

He told Kidd that the poll did not explain why Democrats want expansion, but instead used the “often quoted mantra of the opponents of expansion” that federal money may not come as promised.

The federal government will pay for the first three years that states expand Medicaid.

But Hanger says traditional Medicaid expansion is not the Senate’s plan, and that if federal dollars aren’t available, Virginia’s expanded coverage will be “retracted.”

“I understand that you don’t control the public debate that forms public opinion, but I hope you understand my concerns,” Hanger wrote. “The dissemination of misinformation seems to be more prevalent than an attempt to educate the public on this issue and those of us that are advocates have perhaps not done a good job of getting our message out.”

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com