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Fact-Checking A Right-Wing Video Exposé On Medicaid

From The Free Times:

James O’Keefe/AP Photo

By Porter Barron, Jr.

Maybe you missed it. James O’Keefe — a protégé of conservative media provocateur Andrew Breitbart who has made news by surreptitiously filming outlandish stunts in which he and costumed associates attempt to “punk” perceived agents of liberalism — recently visited South Carolina.

By sending an actor wearing a kilt and a hidden camera into Charleston and Summerville Medicaid offices, where the actor hinted at illegal activity and sought assistance for 25 gunshot foreign terrorists, O’Keefe aimed to depict a hand-over-fist welfare system catering to cretins.

The video is cut to show the eligibility workers appearing helpful and sympathetic, but, as other news outlets have pointed out, it catches them doing nothing more than following federal law by providing requested applications, guaranteeing confidentiality and promising nothing more. (The unedited video shows them appearing more wary.)

You might remember O’Keefe as the fellow who brought down the community-organization coalition ACORN by visiting the group’s offices posing as a pimp looking for help starting an underage brothel. (It later turned out that he wasn’t actually wearing the pimp suit during the visits, but footage was edited to make it appear that way.) As a result of O’Keefe’s video stunts, the California attorney general’s office investigated ACORN in 2009 and found that although ACORN employees had engaged in “highly inappropriate” conversations, they had not violated criminal laws.

In a subsequent lawsuit filed by a former ACORN employee under the California Privacy Act, a federal judge tossed out O’Keefe’s First Amendment defense, saying the First Amendment doesn’t give reporters the right to break the law.

O’Keefe made headlines again in 2010 when he and three confederates were arrested in Watergate getup, trying to infiltrate the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and tamper with her phones. O’Keefe and three other men originally faced felony charges in that incident; the charges were later reduced to a misdemeanor.

So goes O’Keefe’s so-called investigation into Medicaid fraud, which brought his fast and loose Project Veritas crowd to the Lowcountry not long ago.

In his  “South Carolina Medicaid Irish Terrorist Investigation” video, O’Keefe claims, in words flashed against a black screen, that South Carolina has no asset test for Medicaid applicants — meaning that anyone, regardless whether they own a beachfront manse or a bulletproof Ferrari, can qualify for benefits.

In fact, the state has various financial criteria involving income and assets to test an applicant’s eligibility.

O’Keefe’s actor tries hard to work the erroneous “no asset test” angle, referring repeatedly in a ridiculous Irish accent to tricked-out Camaros and Corvettes, claiming he’d given them as gifts to his wounded men. The eligibility workers didn’t take the bait.

The video attributes its no-asset-test claim to the South Carolina Public Health Institute, recently renamed the Institute of Medicine and Public Health, but when asked about O’Keefe’s citation, IMPH’s Megan Weis said she was not sure where it had come from.

Reached by email, O’Keefe promptly revealed his source, an IMPH slideshow presented to Greenville Kiwanis. However, the slideshow was not about South Carolina’s current Medicaid policy; it was about Medicaid reforms that eventually will be implemented nationwide, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. O’Keefe did not answer a question about the discrepancy.

O’Keefe denied that his video was predicated on a falsehood.

Instead, he said, “We’ve posted an entire, unedited, uncut exchange between a man and a Medicaid employee that will prompt a debate about eligibility standards in South Carolina. By rising to this level of transparency, we are going above and beyond the ethics of reporters who inevitably post ‘selectively edited’ hostile articles against us.”

O’Keefe is right about at least one thing: His video is prompting a debate.
But it’s about how eligibility workers should respond to extreme workplace circumstances.

HHS Deputy Director John Supra has circulated an internal memo, notifying agency employees of efforts to better prepare them for incidents similar to the “purposely outrageous situation” orchestrated by O’Keefe.

As for the substance of O’Keefe’s allegation, more than 900,000 South Carolinians, or one in five, could have told him that qualifying for Medicaid is not so easy. Don’t bother if you have more than $30,000 in assets or a car valued at more than $20,000.