Media aids Republican attack on Affordable Care Act

The media seems to be working overtime to spread mass confusion on the Affordable Care Act. The health care reform law can be complicated, and the messy website roll out has not helped any, but why is the media aiding and abetting the law’s enemies in creating such a furor? Why aren’t they more careful in looking at the law in its entirety?

Let’s take a look at one recent article by Chicago Sun Times columnist Carol Marin with the headline, “Obamacare jacks up her insurance.” Marin writes about a former Democratic congressional aide and Obamacare supporter, Sue Klinkhamer. Apparently, Klinkhamer is getting the royal shaft by the new law, and the implication is that millions of others are too.

Klinkhamer said three years ago she was paying $225 a month with a $2,500 deductible, which increased every year. This year she is paying $291 with a $3,500 deductible. Her insurer, Blue Cross, recently sent her a letter offering a similar plan for $647.12 per month or a $322.32 per month plan with a $6,500 deductible. Wow that is harsh!

But let’s take a breath and dive deeper. We all know that insurance companies look for any opportunity to gouge customers. The Affordable Care Act does offer the insurance companies that opportunity as it mandates that companies offer more benefits and protections. Do you think these corporate giants will give anyone more for less?! These minimum protections include coverage for pre-existing conditions, free preventive care, end to lifetime and yearly limits and extended coverage to young adults under 26.

Let’s go deeper still. Nowhere in Marin’s column was any mention about what Klinkhamer would pay if she bought her insurance off the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace. (I’ll give Marin the benefit of the doubt because of the website problems.)

Yet, Paul Waldman of the American Prospect investigated a similar story as Marin’s – person gets an outrageous rate increase – run by NBC Nightly News. Using his best-guess estimates for age and type of plan, he looked on the government health insurance website and found that the subject of the NBC Nightly News story would get better insurance for only $23 more a month than she currently pays.

Inspired, I ran a similar best-guess simulation for Klinkhamer and found she could get a Blue Cross “gold” plan with 80 percent coverage for $497.48, or the “bronze” plan with 60 percent coverage for $306.54. These were plans for an individual and spouse, and did not include any possible subsidies. Not sure how these plans compare regarding deductibles vs. 60-80 percent coverage, but you get the picture.

Apparently, Marin and NBC’s stories are not unique. The media are flush with them, according to Waldman. It is a technique called “exemplar,” used to show the impact of a policy through an individual’s experience. But the media coverage is dominated by the “person who seems to be getting screwed” story, Waldman writes, and exemplar stories of people being helped by Obamacare are sorely lacking. (I would add to the sorely lacking column: commonsense fixes for the ACA, like a Medicare for all, single-payer option. Or where Obamacare is lowering costs.)

The “I’m getting screwed by Obamacare” story makes for good GOP hysteria but not for good journalism. In fact, Marin’s article fit into the Republican narrative so well that the National Republican Congressional Committee sent it out to its press list.

Other examples of misleading headlines, included NBC’s, “Obama administration knew millions could not keep their health insurance,” and two New York Times’: “Millions of poor are left uncovered by health law” and “Health care law fails to lower prices for rural areas.” In both New York Times stories, the failures boil down to Republican intransigence regarding the health care law and public investment. In the first case, Republican governors refuse to expand Medicaid despite having millions of poor citizens who could benefit from the program. In the second, rural costs would come down significantly if Congress had funded a part of the ACA that provided for cooperatives to be established in 50 states.

The NBC reporter who wrote the story about the Obama administration “knowing” that people couldn’t keep their health insurance admitted on MSNBC that people’s plans are not being canceled, but are being replaced (ala Klinkhamer) although there is more to it that has to do with “individual markets” and what plans get exempted and what plans lose their exemption because of “major changes.” For a fuller debunking, read Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress, who explains why the NBC story doesn’t hold up.

If you just read headlines only, which most people do, what other conclusion can you draw except failure? The accumulation of these headlines and sound bites create the type of hysterical atmosphere in which the Republicans and their corporatist supporters thrive.

Photo: Flickr (CC)


Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano had been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor, and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by the International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women, and Illinois Woman Press Association.