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Attorney General campaign ads blur the lines over pre-existing conditions, other issues

Todd Rokita's promise to protect Hoosiers is raising some questions.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Attorney General has the power to influence health care and how those laws are enforced statewide.

So it's no surprise former Republican Congressman Todd Rokita and Evansville's former Democratic Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel are targeting ads toward voters concerned about pre-existing health conditions.

But Rokita's promise to protect Hoosiers with pre-existing conditions is raising more than a few questions.

"We can trust Todd Rokita," his campaign ad claims. "Rokita will get tough on waste and corruption, cut job-killing red tape and protect Hoosiers with pre-existing conditions."

One viewer expressed confusion and asked 13News to fact check the ad's claims.

"Hasn't he voted in Congress over and over to end Obamacare?" the viewer asked.

Another viewer echoed similar concerns: "Did Todd Rokita vote to end protections for pre-existing conditions? Is his TV ad inaccurate?"

The Weinzapfel campaign also shot back with their own counter claims.

"The pandemic hit Hoosiers hard, but what's Todd Rokita's plan: Take away health care. That's what he voted to do in Congress. 2.7 million Hoosiers with pre-existing conditions like cancer and heart disease could lose coverage," the ad claims.

So what's true?

During Rokita's eight years in Congress from 2011 through 2018, he voted to repeal coverage for patient protection and funding for the Affordable Care Act every time it came up, according to both government and industry tracking. The Democratic Attorneys General Association listed the dates of at least 50 such votes.

But Brent Littlefield, Rokita's strategic advisor, said there's no flip-flop and that Rokita has always believed "health care policies are best implemented on the local level...Rokita has supported programs like the Healthy Indiana Plan from its inception."

HIP, as it's called, provides affordable health care for low-income adult Hoosiers.

The Rokita camp also pointed to a new Indiana law passed last year guaranteeing pre-existing coverage for Hoosiers, even if the Supreme Court upholds an appeals court ruling calling the ACA unconstitutional.

"What Rokita neglects to tell Hoosiers is the law only protects state employees, legislators (and those on state health care plans)," Jeff Harris with the Weinzapfel camp told 13News. "Hoosiers accessing private or employee-sponsored health care are not protected."

That does appear to be the case.

According to the law, "no person may be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition under a plan offered or administered by the state." That includes those provided for state employees and lawmakers, Medicaid recipients, including HIP 2.0, and the children's health insurance program.

Researchers suggest that means the 53 percent of Hoosiers with employer-provided health insurance could fall through the gaps if their plans do not cover pre-existing conditions.

The Rokita campaign also said he supports a "guaranteed benefits pool."

Insurance pooling allows a group of small firms to join together to secure better insurance rates and coverage plans by virtue of their increased buying power as a block. Pooling can also provide protection to insurance companies.

Viewers were also concerned about prior statements by Rokita indicating he was in favor of raising the age to qualify for Medicare from age 65 to 78.

At least two news outlets reported that Rokita made statements about raising the age for Medicare, the other about Social Security. Littlefield claims Rokita was taken out of context. In both instances, Rokita talked about gradually raising the age requirement.

"Rokita said the eligibility age for Medicare may have to be raised from 65 to as high as 78 in the future because Americans are living longer. He said the increase in age eligibility should be gradual, done by a few months at a time." [Kokomo Tribune, 4/7/13]

"Social Security was a great deal for Franklin Roosevelt," Rokita said. "When he introduced Social Security, people had to pay for Social Security until they were 65. Most Americans died by the time they were 58 back then. So Roosevelt used Social Security like an insurance policy. Our life expectancy rate has increased. So, I suggest we raise the age for receiving Social Security. We can do that gradually by increasing the age two months per year." [Journal Review, 6/14/12]

And finally, Rokita's ad accuses Weinzapfel of wrongdoing.

"As Evansville mayor, Weinzapfel was accused of violating state laws, funneling tens of thousands to an organization he secretly controlled, ripping off taxpayers; helping his cronies," an ad alleges.

But the ad stops short of telling voters no charges ever resulted from the State Board of Accounts report that questioned whether an employee working for both the City of Evansville and a not-for-profit foundation was a conflict of interest and violation of state law. Both the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor and the Indiana Attorney General were asked to review the case but took no action. [Page 66 in 2010 State Board of Accounts] 

The Evansville city attorney argued there was no conflict of interest for the employee. The attorney likened the arrangement to that of police officers who work off duty private security jobs in addition to their city employment. [Page 87-89, 2010 State Board of Accounts]

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