Fact Check: The Number Of Uninsured Veterans; Republicans Supporting Nonpartisan Redistricting

Feb 20, 2019

In politics, there are a lot of accusations, claims and misinformation dressed up as fact. Politifact has made a name for assessing these on the national level – and assigning them labels like true, half-true and pants on fire. A group of reporters is doing the same for North Carolina politics. It’s a collaboration between Politifact, Duke University’s Reporters’ Lab and the Raleigh News and Observer.

This week the News and Observer’s Paul Specht has been digging into numbers.

Lisa Worf: Let’s start with the number 30,000. Gov. Roy Cooper said this in an interview with a reporter at your newspaper recently:

Roy Cooper: It is embarrassing that 30,000 veterans in North Carolina have no health insurance. If we expand Medicaid 23,000 of them will. 

Worf: First off, why doesn’t the military or the VA cover all veterans? 

Paul Specht: I wondered the same question when I first heard that quote. I thought, "Surely, anyone who served in the military gets coverage through the VA." But that's not necessarily true. You have to meet the service requirements of serving at least, I think, it was 24 consecutive months active duty or whatever their contract said. And, in many cases, there are veterans who qualify for some coverage through the VA, but haven't gone through the process of finding out how much.

Lisa Worf: How do we know how many veterans aren't covered by health insurance?

Specht: It's tough. There's not a lot of data out there. We rely on think tanks and people with an interest in health insurance and health coverage. In this case for this fact check, PolitiFact relied on the Kaiser Family Foundation and we also relied on something called the Urban Institute. And we also relied on the census for a few numbers on veterans.

Worf: What did you find looking through those estimates, those numbers?

Credit Paul Specht

Specht: The Urban Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that back in 2014 and in 2015 one found that there were 26,000 uninsured veterans in North Carolina and the other found about 29,000-30,000, but that's from five years ago. Many of those are assumed to have never actually applied for insurance through the VA. Many veterans, most actually, still get it on the private market. They get it from their employers. They get it, perhaps, through their spouses, things like that.

All of this is in the context of expanding Medicaid. Gov. Cooper and other Democrats are hoping to expand coverage this year. They think they can cover up to 23,000 uninsured veterans.

Worf: That number does ring true then with what you've read?

Specht: If we had a rating for “true enough” that's what it would be. We rated it “mostly true” because we couldn't find numbers that disputed that. The numbers we do have are old by our standards, but we didn't find other estimates through the VA - they don't track the number of uninsured veterans - or through the census, or through any other group.

Worf: On to another statement you looked at this week. A push for nonpartisan redistricting has surfaced again and last week Republican Chuck McGrady and a slew of other lawmakers sponsored a redistricting reform bill. It would create a commission of citizens to draw legislative and congressional lines. And in announcing the bill, McGrady said, “In my caucus nearly half of the Republicans now serving have voted for this type of bill or co-sponsored one or more of the nonpartisan redistricting bills." Did that check out?

Specht: You would think that the numbers would be easy to check, but not exactly. If you look at McGrady’s claim, he would need at least 33 people to have sponsored or voted on a similar bill.  And what we found was about 24 had, leading up to 2019. When he introduced his bill, eight new Republicans, many of them freshmen decided to sponsor his bill. Here's the problem from McGrady as far as being rated on what we call the Truth-O-Meter: He said that statement before he knew that all those people, those eight additional Republicans, would sign on to his bill, so we gave him a “half true.”

Worf: One sponsor of a 2011 bill surprised me. David Lewis of Harnett County who's known for saying the state's congressional map has ten Republican-leaning districts because he couldn't draw a map with eleven. So what's he doing sponsoring a nonpartisan redistricting bill?

Specht: Back when he sponsored that bill was probably 2011 before they drew the maps.

Worf: And Republicans had just taken the majority in the state house at that point.

Specht: That's right. And so perhaps back then maybe the caucus didn't know what the establishment's plan was for redrawing the lines. There are many powerful Republicans in the House who'd expressed interest, if not support for nonpartisan redistricting in previous years. Many of them signed on after 2011, after the districts had been drawn. North Carolina now faces four different legal challenges to their maps. When David Lewis was at an event in January for the News and Observer, given all the legal battles they faced, he said he was open to a new method and that was news at the time for us.

Worf: Talking about congressional districts you've been paying close attention to the state elections board inquiry into the 9th Congressional District race this week. Listening in on the hearing the past few days and monitoring some of the reaction around it, has it inspired any new fact checks?

Specht: Yes, it has actually. For instance, there is a woman, Lisa Britt, who worked for McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of the alleged ballot harvesting scheme, if you will. She admitted to collecting absentee by mail ballots and then giving them over to him. We saw a claim on Twitter. I won't say it went viral, but it got dozens of retweets and likes on Twitter and the claims said that Britt had admitted to “destroying ballots.” That's not the case. She never admitted to that. The lawyers who were cross-examining her asked if she knew what happened to the ballots after she gave them to Dowless and she said, “No.” And, I believe, one of the attorneys even said, “So it's possible that he could have destroyed them?” And I think she said, “It is possible.” But that's why it's so important to pay attention.

Paul Specht will be joining WFAE’s Morning Edition every Wednesday to FactCheck North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.