If it weren’t for Obamacare and the ongoing slow-motion disaster movie that is the Republican Party’s attempt to fulfill Donald Trump’s campaign promise and repeal it, Ron Johnson would be just another anonymous self-funded, Tea Party-backed Republican backbencher.
Instead, the former plastics company CEO and senior U.S. senator from Wisconsin is becoming a household name, a voice of reason in the storm of chaos—or, more accurately, by lieu of being a moderate Republican in a swing state, he is like Chance the Gardener: suddenly important, entirely by accident, and completely out of his depth.
Here he is pontificating on CNN during an extended one-on-one with Jake Tapper, stopping short of endorsing radical new limits on legal immigration, while pushing nonetheless for letting people into the country based on “merit.” Earlier in the summer, he took “principled” stands, like the time Johnson joined a chorus led by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, asking to “negotiate” on dooming their fellow Americans to death by neglect, or when he stood with John McCain and Lindsey Graham to denounce Mitch McConnell’s last-ditch “skinny repeal,” shortly before voting for it.
Is Johnson a man caught in between, serving several masters at once? Or does he just have absolutely no idea what he’s doing?
If his wild contention that Obamacare’s massive expansion of Medicaid has directly fueled the opiate crisis is any indication, it’s emphatically the latter.
On July 27, the same day Johnson voted for skinny repeal, after saying many bad things about it, Johnson sent a formal letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. As the Washington Examiner reported, Johnson claimed to have used “open-source data” and “shockingly identified 261 people” convicted of “exploiting Medicaid cards to obtain opioids”—a clear sign that offering millions of Americans healthcare is a public health crisis.
Further, Johnson charged, everywhere healthcare has been more available for low-income people, through Obamacare’s expansion, overdose deaths have increased. Look at New Hampshire, which took the coverage and saw overdoses double. Compare that to Johnson’s Wisconsin, which rejected the doctors for the poor and saw overdoses increase by only 2.6 percent. (Pity poor Milwaukee, where overdoses have increased three years in a row; must be the inner-city Democrats.)
Overdose deaths, “largely from opioids, are surging much faster in Medicaid expansion states than in non-expansion states,” Johnson concluded. “Because opioids are so available and inexpensive through Medicaid, it appears that the program has created a perverse incentive for people to use opioids, sell them for large profits, and stay hooked.”
In making this claim, Johnson is committing the cardinal sin of statistics, implying that correlation is causation. He’s also completely full of shit, cherrypicking statistics in order to justify an inexcusable and patently absurd position.
Contradictory evidence is everywhere, but let’s just use two prominent examples. Like Johnson’s Wisconsin, Florida also rejected the Medicaid expansion, and overdose deaths skyrocketed by nearly 23 percent. In California, that liberal Hollywood hellhole that’s given America Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi, where a massive Medicaid expansion has covered 1.4 million people, overdoses have barely budged, increasing by a statistically insignificant 1.8 percent.
In states where Medicaid access has not increased, like Wisconsin and Mike Pence’s Indiana, government-subsidized low-income healthcare is paying for methadone treatment and for Narcan doses. As the Indianapolis Star reported, in 2016, “more than 10,000 Medicaid members received treatment for substance use disorders.” (Relevant: a town in Indiana underwent a massive HIV outbreak, right after the sole clinic offering free HIV tests closed.) That’s the score: 261 to 10,000. If it weren’t for Medicaid, things would be much worse.
Why would Johnson make such a spurious claim? Easy: Slamming Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion are stock Republican talking points, and it all fits in perfectly with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s schemes to find any reason whatsoever to deny every form of social welfare imaginable.
Walker has an opiate crisis on his hands—despite rejecting the Medicaid expansion. And Walker is seeking ways to eliminate even more Medicaid recipients, pushing a plan to drug-test Medicaid applicants. Check it: One of the only ways for poor people to access drug-treatment programs would be inaccessible for anyone failing a drug screening.
Why do Scott Walker and Ron Johnson want their fellow citizens to die?
In Walker’s case, it is because he is a cold and unfeeling reptile (who still can’t help himself from Keystone Kop foibles, like the time the infamous union buster offered the “liberal media” a union-made beer.)
For Johnson, the political neophyte whose first foray into politics was his 2010 election to the Senate, it’s the incompetence talking. For his own sake, the sooner we stop listening, the better (for him).