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“Sanctifying Defenders Of The Status Quo”: The GOP’s Obsession With Rate Shock Victims

Last week, the Obamacare war room detected a twist in the national narrative that concerned them. The media’s obsessive focus on the failed website launch was beginning to give way to stories about individuals who found higher-than-expected prices on the exchanges. A memo instructed participants to prepare for such “media inquiries”: “The media attention will follow individuals to plan selection and their ultimate choices; and, in some cases, there will be fewer options than would be desired to promote consumer choice and an ideal shopping experience,” warned the memo. “Additionally, in some cases there will be relatively high-cost plans.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper obtained the memo. Here is how he described it: “Officials expressed concern that the next shoe to drop in the evolving story about the Affordable Care Act would be disappointment from consumers once they are able to get on the troubled Healthcare.gov website — disappointment because of sticker shock and limited choice.” Notice the crucial difference in framing. The memo simply acknowledged that in some cases — a caveat that appeared twice — consumers would have fewer options and higher prices than the administration would like. In CNN’s characterization, the caveat disappears altogether. Tapper portrays the problem as “disappointment from consumers,” writ large. The minority facing sticker shock has become a stand-in for the entire public.

This turns out to be a synecdoche for the entire Obamacare narrative now. The world of the Republican Party’s fever dreams has sprung to life in the mainstream media, where the Affordable Care Act now exists primarily as a series of cruel, oppressive acts of theft against innocent Americans. Here are CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post chronicling the parade of horribles.

The stories often turn out to be either more complicated than initially depicted, or wildly overblown. But it is surely true that some people will find themselves worse off, at least immediately, under the new law. That their fate has blotted out everything else about the law explains why health-care reform is so maddeningly difficult to enact in the first place.

Everybody knows about the two main ways in which the American health-care system is awful: It’s the most expensive in the world, by far, and also the only advanced health-care system that denies basic care to many citizens. There’s also a third awful trait as well: The system is resistant to change. The very insecurity of American health care, the ever-present fear of finding one’s insurance lifeline snapped and plunging into the howling void of the 50 million uninsured, renders those with insurance understandably terrified of change.

The Affordable Care Act worked around the inherent change aversion of the system by leaving the vast majority of it in place. Insuring tens of millions of Americans costs money, and that money has to come from somewhere, but the law’s author’s carefully apportioned the burden in a relatively painless way. Some of the money comes from higher taxes on the rich — a source of anger and resentment on the right, though conservatives have shrewdly recognized that complaining about higher taxes on wealthy investors to pay for covering the uninsured is not a winning message. Some of it comes from reshuffling Medicare spending, so that the government essentially shifts funds from reimbursing hospitals for treating uninsured patients in emergency rooms to basic medical care, a clear positive-sum transfer.

And, yes, some of the cost is borne by the minority of healthy individuals paying higher premiums. (These individuals will, of course, go from Obamacare victims to Obamacare beneficiaries the moment anybody in their household develops a serious medical condition, in the same manner that fire insurance is a bad deal for people whose houses don’t burn.)

Why has their plight attained such singular prominence? Several factors have come together. The news media has a natural attraction to bad news over good. “Millions Set to Gain Low-Cost Insurance” is a less attractive story than “Florida Woman Facing Higher Costs.” Obama overstated the case when he repeatedly assured Americans that nobody would lose their current health-care plan. There’s also an economic bias at work. Victims of rate shock are middle-class, and their travails, in general, tend to attract far more lavish coverage than the problems of the poor. (Did you know that on November 1, millions of Americans suffered painful cuts to nutritional assistance? Not a single Sunday-morning talk-show mentioned it.)

The point here is not that Obamacare represents a perfectly optimal restructuring of the health-care system. Almost nobody would regard it as such. The point is that it represents the least-disruptive, least-painful way to clear the minimal threshold of any humane reform. The preferred alternatives of both right and left would impose an order of magnitude of more dislocation — creating not a few million “victims,” but tens of millions. What’s on display at the moment is a way of looking at the world that sanctifies defenders of the horrendous status quo and places all the burden upon those trying to change it.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, November 5, 2013

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Anecdotal Journalism At Its Worse”: Every News Story Has Two Sides, Except, Apparently Obamacare

The rocky rollout of Obamacare has prompted commentators to attack the president and his team for having three years to plan for the launch and still not getting it right. That’s a legitimate critique as problems persist. But the same can be said for an awful lot of reporters doing a very poor job covering Obamacare. They also had three years to prepare themselves to accurately report the story.

So what’s their excuse?

The truth is, the Beltway press rarely bothers to explain, let alone cover, public policy any more. With a media model that almost uniformly revolves around the political process of Washington (who’s winning, who’s losing?), journalists have distanced themselves from the grungy facts of governance, especially in terms of how government programs work and how they effect the citizenry.

But explaining is the job of journalism. It’s one of the crucial roles that newsrooms play in a democracy. And in the recent case of Obamacare, the press has failed badly in its role. Worse, it has actively misinformed about the new health law and routinely highlighted consumers unhappy with Obamacare, while ignoring those who praise it.

As Joshua Holland noted at Bill Moyers’ website, “lazy stories of “sticker shock” and cancellations by reporters uninterested in the details of public policy only offer the sensational half of a complicated story, and that’s providing a big assist to opponents of the law.”

It’s part of a troubling trend. Fresh off of blaming both sides for the GOP’s wholly-owned, and thoroughly engineered, government shutdown, the press is now botching its Obamacare reporting by omitting key facts and context — to the delight of Republicans. It’s almost like there’s a larger newsroom pattern in play.

And this week the pattern revolved around trying to scare the hell out of people with deceiving claims about how Obamacare had forced insurance companies to “drop” clients and how millions of Americans had “lost” their coverage.

Not quite.

Insurance companies informed some customers that plans that didn’t meet minimum standards required by Obamacare would be phased out. But the part often obscured or downplayed in breathless “cancellation” news reports is that consumers are able to shop for new plans that in many cases are superior to the old ones, and often less expensive (or partially paid for by subsidies). In other words, they’re transitioning from one plan to another.

It’s understandable why right-wing partisan voices only interested in trashing Obamacare and damaging the president would push claims, as Breitbart.com recently did, that nearly one million Californians have “lost” their insurance because of the new law. (They didn’t.) It’s less clear why mainstream reporters would traffic in that same kind of misleading claims.

Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher has been methodically dissecting erroneous and painfully misleading Obamacare reports this week. He concluded one big problem is “a reliance on consumers who aren’t insurance experts, and reporters who aren’t much better.”

Reporters, and especially television reporters, seem anxious to interview consumers who have been notified by letter that their insurance policy has been canceled and who say they’re shocked to find out how expensive purchasing a new plan will be.

But as Christopher discovered, that’s often not the case and that consumers and reporters either don’t understand the options that are available, or haven’t researched the issue enough. (Christopher was able to find much less expensive plans for several consumers touted in TV reports.) That’s because (surprise!) the cost of new insurance plans quoted in letters sent by insurance companies often don’t represent the lowest option available via the open exchange.

Just look at the now-infamous CBS report about Florida resident Dianne Barrette who complained her premium under Obamacare would increased tenfold, from $54 a month to $591 a month. (She was quickly invited onto Fox News to tell her tale.) But a woman paying just $54 a month for health insurance didn’t set off any red flags among editors at CBS News? Barrette’s health plan — the best she could afford — was a barely-there “junk health insurance” policy that didn’t cover hospitalization, ambulance service, or prescription drugs.

Left unsaid by CBS, as Holland reported, was the fact that under Obamacare Barrette qualified “for a bronze plan, which guarantees free preventive care and coverage for hospitalizations, for only $97 per month — one-sixth of that headline number that’s making the rounds.”

Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News profiled another so-called Obamacare “sticker shock” victim and detailed how Deborah Cavallaro’s monthly premium would go up from $293 to $484. (She appeared on CNBC to repeat her Obamacare complaints.) But then American Prospect‘s Paul Waldman did some online shopping and found a plan that Cavallaro qualified for and cost $258 per-month, $35 less than the plan that’s being canceled.

“If you find someone who’s going to end up paying more thanks to Obamacare, fair enough,” wrote Waldman. “Run with the story. But first, you’d better perform the due diligence to find out what a comparable plan really costs.” (Still, lots of reporters don’t.)

Christopher noted another glaring omission from the ongoing reporting: “None of these reports take the extra step of explaining the tremendous benefits of the Affordable Care Act, for which most reasonable people wouldn’t necessarily mind a bit of a tradeoff.”

Also, absent from virtually all the reports is the acknowledgement that insurance companies canceling existing plans in the individual market and consumers being forced to join new ones is not an unusual occurrence. At all.

Obamacare coverage has often been anecdotal journalism at its worst, simply because it’s been the same one anecdote told over and over and over.

One CBS report acknowledged, “Industry experts say about half the people getting the letters will pay more — and half will pay less, thanks to taxpayer subsidies.” If that’s the case, where are the television news reports featuring the “half” who will soon be paying less for health insurance thanks to Obamacare?

Maybe I’ve just missed them all? But for this news viewer the pattern seems unmistakable: Consumers who might have to pay more (or more accurately, consumers who think they might have to pay more) are welcomed before the cameras to tell their understandably frustrating tales.

In his bad-news Obamacare report featuring three frustrated health care consumers, CNN’s Drew Griffin admitted that he didn’t even bother looking for success stories. Instead, as host Anderson Cooper explained, because Obama had given a speech extolling the benefits of Obamacare, it was CNN’s and Griffin’s job to “counter against that.”

And then there was the absurd CBS report which highlighted one man’s complaint that under Obamacare all insurance plans must provide maternity care coverage. As Media Matters noted, instead of interviewing a beneficiary of the maternity coverage, CBS highlighted a man upset that his plan included the key benefit.

The media rule has been hard to miss: Consumers who have complaints about Obamacare are much, much more newsworthy than those who have praise.

By the way, in case anyone is interested, here are some examples of Obamacare fans (who have been highlighted by local media outlets and personal online postings):

* Phil Sherburne in Salt Lake City purchased health insurance for his family of five for just $123 per-month.

* California mechanic and small business owner Rakesh Rikhi purchased $500-a-month health insurance, helping him save $5,000 each year.

* Katie Klabusich sometimes paid more for health insurance each month than she did for rent, and bounced around from bad plan to bad plan. Now thanks to Obamacare she has solid health insurance. Or, “HOLY SHIT I HAVE COMPREHENSIVE MEDICAL COVERAGE STARTING IN TEN WEEKS!”, as Klabusich wrote on her blog.

Every news story has two sides. Except, apparently, Obamacare.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, October 30, 2013

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Media, Obamacare, Press | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Obvious Agenda”: Misleading Information, Sloppy Media Coverage Are Confusing The Public About Obamacare

Not confused enough yet about how much health insurance might cost some of us next year when the consumer protections in Obamacare kick in? Just wait. It’s likely you’ll soon be far more confused — and alarmed — than you already are.

Take, as an example, the CNNMoney story from last week, headlined, “Where Obamacare premiums will soar.” The subhead was equally scary: “Get ready to shell out more money for individual health insurance under Obamacare … in some states, that is.”

The first thing you should keep in mind when you read such stories is that very few Americans will be affected by how much insurers will charge for the individual policies they’ll be selling in the online health insurance marketplaces beginning Oct. 1. The CNN story doesn’t mention, as it should have, that in a country of 315 million people, only 15 million — less than five percent of us — currently buy health insurance on our own through the so-called individual market because it’s not available to us through the workplace.

Although the CNN story focused exclusively on the individual market, nowhere in the story was it explained that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the vast majority of Americans — about 55 percent of us — are enrolled in health insurance plans sponsored by our employers. Another 32 percent of us are enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs. That means that almost 9 out of 10 of us will not be affected at all by rates insurers will charge next year in the individual market.

The Americans who will be affected most by Obamacare are the millions who are uninsured because they either cannot buy coverage at any price today as a result of pre-existing conditions or they cannot afford what insurers are charging.

Although the CNN story didn’t mention that one of the main reasons for Obamacare was to make it possible for the uninsured to at long last buy affordable coverage, it is the uninsured who will be most directly affected by the reform law, and most likely to benefit. That’s because insurers next year will no longer be able to refuse to sell coverage to people who’ve been sick in the past. And because most people shopping for coverage on the online marketplaces will be eligible for federal subsidies to offset the cost of the premiums.

Not until deep in the CNN story are we informed that “Americans with incomes up to $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four will be eligible for federal subsidies.” That’s a huge point to bury, especially considering that the median household income in this country is still just around $50,000. It’s just a small percentage of folks buying coverage through the online insurance marketplaces that will have to pay the full premium price on their own.

Below the headline of the CNN story was a startling graphic showing the states of Ohio and Florida with the numbers 41 percent and 35 percent right below them, leading one to believe that all residents of those states would see their health insurance premiums skyrocket.

As I did my own research of those claims, I found that not only did those numbers apply to just the individual market, but they did not take into account the subsidies that will be available. So not only will very few Ohioans and Floridians see their premiums increase by that much, many if not most will pay less than they do today thanks to the sliding-scale subsidies.

I also found that officials in those states were being disingenuous in the way they calculated their “Obamacare” figures. Ohio and Florida and many other states permit insurers to sell policies today that are so inadequate they will be outlawed beginning Jan. 1. The reason those kinds of policies are being outlawed is because, even though they are profitable for insurers that sell them, people who buy them often find out when it’s too late — after a serious illness or accident — that their policies are essentially worthless.

As The Miami Herald noted in a story about the projected rates announced recently by Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation, the source for the CNN graphic, “The OIR compared ‘apples to oranges’ by failing to factor into its projections the fact that statewide averages for pre-Obamacare premiums included a wide variety of low-value plans — including plans with extremely limited benefits, such as no prescription drug coverage; and high-deductible plans, where the insured first must pay hefty out-of-pocket costs before the insurer begins to cover services.”

Considering all the intentionally misleading information we are being subjected to about Obamacare from politicians and special interests with an obvious agenda, it will be vitally important for reporters to be more responsible in their reporting. Sensational media stories with attention-grabbing headlines but inadequate analysis will only add to Americans’ confusion about a law that in reality will help the vast majority of us.

By: Wendell Potter, The Center for Public Integrity, Originally Published on August 12, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP National Tour Of Shame”: The Republicans’ Desperate Plan To Hide Its Clowns

Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, has told NBC and CNN that they will not be allowed to have any Republican presidential debates in 2016 if they go ahead and air planned films about Hillary Clinton, who will likely be the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. That is the reason he gave them, at least, but it is not the actual reason Priebus wants to not have any debates on those two channels. The real reason, everyone knows and sort of acknowledges, is that debates were a disaster for the party in 2012, an endless circus made up entirely of clowns on a national tour of shame.

These debates were on TV, people watched (and mocked) them, and the real candidates, the ones the money people were counting on to win the stupid race, were forced to say unacceptable things to appeal to raging loons. Furthermore, the serious candidates looked less serious simply by sharing a stage with Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain. So: Fewer debates, next time, is the plan, and these Hillary movies are a convenient reason to cancel on two of the big networks. (Do you know how I know that the Hillary Clinton movies aren’t the real reason? Media Matters’ David Brock would also like the networks to cancel these movies, because, let’s be honest, they probably won’t be entirely flattering.)

The entire Republican primary system is broken, and embarrassing debates really number among the least of their problems, but it is easier for Priebus to preemptively cancel embarrassing debates than it is for him to fundamentally alter the makeup of the Republican primary electorate, a small and largely angry group who demand ideological fealty to a political philosophy that most Americans abhor. Unfortunately for Priebus, threatening to cancel debates is going to be much easier than actually preventing them from happening.

Maybe one of the Republican Party’s primary malfunctions these days is that the interests of the party as a whole are frequently in opposition to the interests of individual Republican politicians. Preibus wants there to be fewer debates, because the debates are hugely embarrassing to the party and damaging to the eventual nominee. The candidates, though, need the debates, because there is nothing so precious as free airtime, and saying stupid things on television and then losing elections is a surprisingly lucrative career move these days. The debate problem is like the Ted Cruz problem: He acts against the long-term best interests of his party because in the shorter term, being an ultra-conservative is likely to make him rich and beloved. When 2015 rolls around a half-dozen would-be presidents and tryouts for the conservative speaking circuit are going to want free airtime, and the networks will happily provide it. The only question is whether the eventual “serious” nominee, if that’s Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, is going to join them or not.

Cruz may well be among those jokers, along with Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Peter King, Rick Perry and various other figures adored by “the base” but sort of terrifying and confusing to everyone else. These guys are going to go on television if they are given the opportunity to go on television. You either finish your presidential campaign as the president or as a person who isn’t the president but who is much more famous than before, and conservative movement fame means well-compensated positions at nonprofits or think tanks, speeches, maybe even television or radio jobs. Mike Huckabee is doing so well for himself he couldn’t be bothered to run in 2012, and he would’ve probably beaten Mitt if he had.

So boycotting NBC and CNN isn’t going to prevent another string of embarrassing debates from happening. But it may still be useful. Priebus wants to avoid those two channels in part because they’re hostile to conservatives, and the moderators they select will likely actively seek to embarrass the candidates. Republicans are still mad that in 2007, NBC allowed Chris Matthews to co-moderate a Republican debate. They sort of have a point — he’s a shouty Democrat, and likely had no respect for the people onstage — but the problem isn’t liberal bias, it’s “nonpartisan” journalist idiocy. Nonpartisan television news personalities are generally ill-informed about policy and hostile to politics in general. Bob Schieffer was utterly useless as a debate moderator. Partisan journalists are, by and large, more engaged with the issues and much more likely to ask interesting questions. There’s really no reason why conservative journalists shouldn’t be moderating, or at least co-moderating, Republican debates. Byron York and Rich Lowry would do a fine job.

If there are going to be another hundred primary debates, and there probably will be, the party would most likely prefer most of them to be on Fox. And that’d be fine: The candidates will be trying to appeal to Fox’s audience for votes, after all. And liberals ought to be fine with it too, because the candidates will be just as likely, or maybe even more likely, to say dumb and embarrassing things on Fox as they would be on CNN or NBC. So boycott away, Reince Priebus.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, August 7, 2013

August 8, 2013 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hoping To Cash In”: The GOP Versus Hillary Clinton’s Celebrity

I’m not sure whether to file this under “pointless” or just “dumb,” but the Republican National Committee is threatening to boycott NBC and CNN if they go forward with, respectively, a mini-series and a documentary about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I guess you could file it under “oblivious”?

Here’s why: The last time I checked, Republicans were supposed to be fierce defenders of the free market. And to the extent that these companies are trying to catch the Hillary ’16 presidential wave, it’s more likely that they’re hoping to cash in on it rather than promote it.

Earlier today, the Republican National Committee issued a release saying that if NBC and CNN go ahead with their plans, Chairman Reince Priebus “will seek a binding vote of the RNC to prevent the committee from partnering with these networks in 2016 primary debates or sanctioning debates they sponsor.”

It goes without saying that media companies shouldn’t let political parties dictate their programming choices. But honestly, this is silly. Yes, Hillary Clinton is widely expected to run for president in three years. So are a lot of people, but she’s also the biggest celebrity in the potential presidential field, and by a long shot (sorry, Donald Trump, I’m only referring to serious potential candidates).

Does it make good business sense for these companies to try to capitalize on that celebrity? Yes. So much so that you’d think there would be a Hillary Clinton move in the works … which, it turns out, there is. NBC announcing a miniseries about Kirsten Gillibrand or Peter King would raise eyebrows. About Hillary Clinton? Come on.

Occam’s Razor (the maxim that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one)  applies here: The simpler explanation – that two media conglomerates think there’s a market for Hillary-related programming – is more plausible than the idea that they are engaged in a vast, collusive media conspiracy to promote the candidacy of someone who has universal name recognition and is already widely seen as the most likely person to become the next president.

Were I conspiratorially minded, I might suggest that the GOP really doesn’t want CNN and NBC to broadcast its presidential debates in 2016. There’s fairly wide agreement that the party did itself no favors with the traveling circus that was the 2012 primary debates. So limiting both the number and the reach of its 2016 tilts in one fell swoop? Well that would be a win-win. Could that be what this is all about? Alas, probably not.

So what are Republicans up to? Part of this is probably working the ref: They likely hope that whoever writes the scripts for these shows will bend over backward to make them – to borrow a phrase – fair and balanced, putting extra emphasis on her shortcomings in order to stay the braying on the right. (And if any conservatives want to argue that content is beside the point because any exposure is good exposure, please explain to me what exactly is the problem with Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan.) And probably the RNC is itself trying to capitalize on Hillary Clinton’s celebrity by issuing a press release about her.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, August 5, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Election 2016 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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