CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A national Republican group launched a television ad blitz last week attempting to use the state's public employee retiree health care reform to liken Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to President Barack Obama.
Tomblin, a Democrat, is running for re-election against Republican businessman Bill Maloney, whom he defeated in a 2011 special gubernatorial election.
That election featured a slew of negative campaign ads paid for by outside political groups. Last week's ad means voters could expect more of the same leading into this November's election.
The Republican Governors Association is behind the ad, which claims Tomblin is enacting Obama administration health care policies in the state.
"Earl Ray Tomblin helped clear the path for implementing Obamacare in West Virginia," Mike Schrimpf, the association's communications director, said in a statement Wednesday.
But before Schrimpf had even issued his statement Wednesday, the Tomblin campaign was already denouncing the RGA ad as false and misleading.
"This out-of-state group shows the same lack of understanding about West Virginia that New York native Bill Maloney does," campaign spokesman Chris Stadelman said.
The ad targets what had been seen as one of Tomblin's biggest achievements during the last legislative session, his plan to pay off a $5 billion worth of unfunded future health care liabilities for state employees.
At this time last year, the state was struggling to come up with a way to fund $10 billion in what are known as other post-employment benefits, or OPEB liabilities.
The Public Employee Insurance Agency finance board eliminated about $5 billion worth of those future liabilities when members voted last December to cap retiree premium subsidies and increase the subsidy by no more than 3 percent each year.
After that move, the Tomblin administration was able to garner wide bipartisan support in the Legislature for a plan to fund the remaining portion by 2026. The plan was approved by a unanimous vote in the state Senate unanimously approved the plan, and an 83-17 majority in the House of Delegates.
The new ad claims the state paid down the liability by borrowing ideas from the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"Earl Ray Tomblin's plan for state retiree's health care sure does look like another plan we've seen: Obamacare," the narrator says in the ad. "Tomblin's plan puts bureaucrats in charge of seniors' health care, lets them ration health care - sound familiar?"
The claim is based on a section in Tomblin's OPEB bill that requires the director of PEIA to make every effort to administer programs in the most cost-effective way.
That includes adopting cost-saving measures proposed by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and studying new benefit designs and payment methodologies that might help cut future costs.
Under the argument put forward in the ad, the PEIA director and finance board would act like the federal Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was set up by the Affordable Care Act to find ways to cut Medicare costs.
But the claim that this means the state board will be able to ration care like the federal government is not true.
While national Republicans have argued the president's health care bill will lead to bureaucrats rationing health care, or what former Alaska governor Sarah Palin called "death panels," the law doesn't allow it.
The non-partisan organization FactCheck.org has debunked the claim, pointing out the act explicitly states the Independent Payment Advisory Board, "shall not include any recommendation to ration health care."