Christopher Newport University (CNU) released a poll yesterday and boy have the headlines about it been misleading. A writer at Slate started with the headline “Polls Show Democrats Losing Medicaid Debate in Virginia” while many local news outlets exclaim “Majority Oppose Virginia Medicaid Expansion.” The Slate writer did a good job of addressing some problems with his own headline in the piece, but the headline is hard to ignore.
What gives? A poll by the same University in February showed a very different result. The April poll - 53% of those polled do not want “Medicaid expansion” while 41% support expansion. The February poll showed 56% polled SUPPORTED expansion while 38% were against expansion. To this observer’s eyes, this is quite the dramatic change in 2 months, and focusing on the topline difference it appears 15% of Virginias changed their minds in the last 2 months.
I want to focus on the poll, which can be seen in its entirety here. Many polling items are ignored by the headlines, as are differences in the wording of the questions from February to April diminishing their apples-to-apples comparison. The most glaring omission from the headlines and stories is the wording of the questions. Virginians clearly do not want to see Medicaid expansion if the federal government does not pay its share. This was true in the February poll, and now is more pronounced in the April poll. This demonstrates the power of the negative propaganda of Medicaid expansion opponents. Their claim is that the federal government cannot afford expansion, and will fail to meet its statutory obligations to supply the funding to Virginia. This false, yet common claim is poisoning the debate and it is disappointing that CNU chose this wording to its questions.
Also ignored, and I feel the most dramatic, is that 71% of respondents say that Republicans and Democrats should compromise! Why is this not getting headlines? I would think the compromise that emerged from the Virginia Senate, “Marketplace Virginia,” should have had a much more prominent place in this poll. If Republicans and Democrats in the VA Senate have already come up with a compromise proposal, how to Virginians feel about that?
Unfortunately, this is all about the political horse race and ignores the 400,000 Virginians who should be newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It ignores the majority of newspaper editorial boards, economists, health care advocates, hospitals, physicians and even health insurance plans that strongly support expansion.
I think it’s media malpractice to run these headlines when a mere 806 out of 8.2 million Virginians were polled, and the questions give credence to the false arguments of expansion opponents. I would love to see pollsters ask respondents what alternative they suggest to Medicaid expansion - should Virginians simply be left without health insurance coverage? I would also like to see a focus on patients, not politics, as we have an opportunity to improve the lives of millions left in the coverage gap due to the ideological intransigence of expansion opponents. Refusing Medicaid expansion is masochism, pure and simple. Refusing expansion hurts taxpayers, job seekers and most of all the human beings who should be given the chance to have health insurance coverage.