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“Why So Many Are Clueless”: Shameful Coverage Of Obamacare’s Real Impacts

If you read my column last week about a Senate hearing that showed how Obamacare has affected Americans, you might have wondered if I was in the same room with reporters who presumably covered the event.

The disparity goes a long way toward explaining why so many of us are clueless about the actual impact the law is having on our lives.

The title of the May 21 Senate Commerce Committee hearing: “Delivering Better Health Care Value to Consumers: The First Three Years of the Medical Loss Ratio.” I was one of four witnesses talking about the part  of the law that requires health insurers to issue rebates to policyholders if they spend more than 20 percent of premiums  on non-medical expenses, including profits — the so-called Medical Loss Ratio.

Prior to the passage of the law, insurance company executives — who consider what they spend on medical care to be a loss — were in many cases devoting up to half of premiums they collected to pay for advertising and other administrative functions and to reward executives and shareholders.

As I wrote last week, consumers have saved at least $3 billion since the provision of the law that mandates insurers must spend at least 80 percent of our premiums on medical care went into effect in 2011.

The hearing wasn’t just about numbers, however. Katherine Fernandez, a small business owner from Houston, testified about how the MLR provision and other aspects of the law have enabled her family to pay less for far more comprehensive coverage than was possible in the past.

She told the committee that because both her husband and son had pre-existing conditions, the only policies available to them pre-Obamacare would not cover any medical care pertaining to those maladies. And even then the policies had both high premiums and high deductibles. She said that during the 14 years prior to the law’s passage, her family paid more than $100,000 in premiums for what she described as bare-bones coverage. And the premiums went up sharply every year — 165 percent between 2000 and 2003 alone.

She said she was elated when the Affordable Care Act passed. “No more pre-existing condition clauses … and insurance companies had to refund some of what we paid if they didn’t spend enough. What reasonable ideas.”

If you read the accounts of the hearing in The Washington Post, USA Today, Politico or CBS News — the only news outlets I could find that provided any coverage — you would not have read anything about the $3 billion consumers have saved as a result of the MLR provision or how the law has benefited the Fernandez family.

The focus of all those stories was a brief exchange toward the end of the hearing between Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin about whether the color of President Obama’s skin might explain why some people are opposed to the law.

Rockefeller suggested race might be a factor, which provoked a spirited denial from Johnson. Politico’s only hint about the hearing’s actual subject was this: “His (Rockefeller’s) critiques of the GOP again came in a sparsely attended committee hearing, this time during an analysis of health-care spending.”

The only one of these pieces that even mentioned “medical loss ratio” was the CBS story, and it, too, was primarily about the exchange between Rockefeller and Johnson. In the USA Today article, which apparently was based on a National Journal transcript, the only hint of a hearing was in the very last sentence:  “Rockefeller then veered into another topic before adjourning the hearing.”

That other topic, of course, was the medical loss ratio.

The Washington Post likewise found medical loss ratio of no interest. Its story, too, was about the back-and-forth between Rockefeller and Johnson during what the reporter dismissed as “an otherwise sleepy committee hearing.”

Granted, it is challenging to substantively cover the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. health care system is dizzyingly complex, and so is the law. It’s far easier to write about constant political sparring than to take the time to educate readers about what’s actually in the law and how it affects people. It’s not a heavy lift to review a transcript and write the kind of “he said, she said” — in this case the “he said, he said” — coverage that passes for journalism.

There are a lot of reasons why Americans don’t know how the law affects them or why they believe things about Obamcare that aren’t true. The Democrats have done a lousy job of explaining it. And more than $400 million has been spent by opponents attacking it — 15 times as much as has been spent by supporters. But one of the biggest reasons is the failure of many in the media to provide anything other than the most superficial coverage. As a former reporter who used to cover hearings on the Hill, I consider that shameful.

 

By: Wendell Potter, The Center For Public Integrity, June 2, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Media, Reporters | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Actions Speak For Themselves”: Talking About Race Is No Black-And-White Matter

When Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) remarked last week that some of the opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “maybe he’s of the wrong color,” he was just saying out loud what many people believe. And no, he wasn’t calling Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) a “racist.”

Believing that some of the Republican and tea party opposition to Obama has to do with his race is not, I repeat not, the same as saying that anyone who disagrees with the nation’s first black president is racist.

Speaking Wednesday at a sparsely attended Senate commerce committee hearing, Rockefeller said this subject is “not something you’re meant to talk about in public.” He’s retiring from the Senate at the end of the year and, well, he’s a Rockefeller, so I imagine he feels free to talk about anything he likes.

Johnson was the only Republican senator in the room when Rockefeller made the remark. He took umbrage, telling Rockefeller, “I found it very offensive that you would basically imply that I’m a racist because I oppose this health-care law.” He later added, “I was called a racist. I think most people would lose their temper, Mr. Chairman.”

But Rockefeller didn’t call him a racist. Nor did he “play the race card,” as Johnson accused him of doing.

My purpose here is not to convince everyone that Rockefeller is right about the massive GOP resistance to Obama — although I certainly agree with him — but rather to consider the things we say when we want to avoid talking about race. “You called me a racist” and “You played the race card” have become all-purpose conversation stoppers.

Whenever I write about race, some readers react with one or the other of these end-of-discussion criticisms. Some people believe, or pretend to believe, that mentioning race in almost any context is “playing the race card.” Nearly 400 years of history — since the first Africans landed at Jamestown in 1619 — amply demonstrate that this view is either Pollyannaish or deeply cynical. We will never get to the point where race is irrelevant if we do not talk about the ways in which it still matters.

As for the “called-me-a-racist” charge, I go out of my way not to do that. All right, I did make an exception for Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling — I wrote that they were not “the last two racists in America” — but I think most people would agree that I was on solid ground. Their own words and actions proved the point.

In general, I try to focus on what a person does or says rather than speculate on what he or she “is.” How can I really know what’s in another person’s heart?

Is it true, as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban opined, that everyone is a little bit racist? Beats me. I know that psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have written sheaves of peer-reviewed papers about implicit or unconscious bias, and I have no reason to doubt this research. But no generalized finding says anything definitive about a given individual.

In the end, all we can do is look at what the individual does, listen to what he or she says and then draw conclusions about those words and deeds.

I’m reminded of a tea party rally at the Capitol four years ago when Congress was about to pass the Affordable Care Act. I can’t say that the demonstrators who hissed and spat at members of the Congressional Black Caucus were racists — but I saw them committing racist acts. I can’t say that the people holding “Take Back Our Country” signs were racists — but I know this rallying cry arose after the first African American family moved into the White House.

I believe Rockefeller was justified in looking at the vehemence and implacability of Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act and asking whether the president’s race is a factor. I believe there are enough words and deeds on the record to justify Rockefeller’s subsequent comment that race “is a part of American life . . . and it’s a part — just a part — of why they oppose absolutely everything that this president does.”

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in Congress, said it was “ridiculous” to think GOP opposition to the health-care reforms had anything to do with race.

Referring to Rockefeller, Scott added: “I can’t judge another man’s heart.” On this, at least, we agree.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 26, 2014

May 27, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Yes, Opposition To Obamacare Is Tied Up With Race”: A Staple Of Conservative Rhetoric Since The Beginning Of His Presidency

Is opposition to Obamacare really about race? That’s the highly charged question that has bubbled up in the last day or so, starting with a Senate hearing and then bursting into the news media. I won’t keep you in suspense: The answer is, “Yes, but . . . .”  Not all opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and not from all people, and not at all times. But two things are clearly true. First, some conservatives with large megaphones have worked hard to use the ACA as a tool of race-baiting, encouraging their white audiences to see the law through a racial lens. And second, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that race plays a role in many people’s opposition to the law.

Before we get into details, this is coming up now because of an exchange between senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at a hearing. Here’s how it started:

“It’s very important to take a long view at what’s going on here. And I’ll be able to dig up some emails that make part of the Affordable Care Act that doesn’t look good, especially from people who have made up their mind that they don’t want it to work. Because they don’t like the president, maybe he’s of the wrong color. Something of that sort,” Rockefeller said. “I’ve seen a lot of that and I know a lot of that to be true. It’s not something you’re meant to talk about in public, but it’s something I’m talking about in public because that is very true.”

Senator Johnson reacted angrily, saying that because he was the only Republican in the room, it looked like Sen. Rockefeller was accusing him of being racist — a not uncommon reaction to this kind of accusation.

This morning, MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough said:

“I must say, I have been behind closed doors with thousands of conservatives through the years. I have never once heard one of them say in the deep south or in the northeast or in South Boston, ‘Boy, I really hate Obamacare because that black president’ — no, I’ve never heard anybody come close to saying that,” Scarborough said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And I have spoken to some wildly right wing groups. I have never heard it once.”

There are many reasons why a person might oppose the Affordable Care Act, and there are many people who are opposed to it. You can oppose it for reasons having nothing to do with race. You can oppose it and not be a racist. Heck, I suppose you can even be a racist but oppose it for non-racial reasons.

But let’s return to the two other truths I mentioned up top, that at least some of the opposition to the ACA is tied up with race and that there has been an unusual amount of race-baiting from the right during this presidency, both in general and on the issue of health-care reform.

On the first question, there is a growing body of evidence that people’s implicit or explicit ideas about race affect how they look at the Affordable Care Act. Let me quote from the abstracts of studies done by political scientists and psychologists over the last few years:

“Using a nationally representative experiment over two waves, I induced several emotions to elicit anger, fear, enthusiasm, or relaxation. The results show that anger uniquely pushes racial conservatives to be more opposing of health care reform while it triggers more support among racial liberals.” [paper here]

“Controlling for explicit prejudice, implicit prejudice predicted a reluctance to vote for Obama, opposition to his health care reform plan, and endorsement of specific concerns about the plan. In an experiment, the association between implicit prejudice and opposition to health care reform replicated when the plan was attributed to Obama, but not to Bill Clinton — suggesting that individuals high in anti-Black prejudice tended to oppose Obama at least in part because they dislike him as a Black person. In sum, our data support the notion that racial prejudice is one factor driving opposition to Obama and his policies.” [paper here]

“This study argues that President Obama’s strong association with an issue like health care should polarize public opinion by racial attitudes and race. Consistent with that hypothesis, racial attitudes had a significantly larger impact on health care opinions in fall 2009 than they had in cross-sectional surveys from the past two decades and in panel data collected before Obama became the face of the policy. Moreover, the experiments embedded in one of those reinterview surveys found health care policies were significantly more racialized when attributed to President Obama than they were when these same proposals were framed as President Clinton’s 1993 reform efforts.” [paper here]

“This study investigates the relationship between individual-level support for the 2010 Affordable Care Act and nativism, the perception that a traditional American culture and way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence. The results of an analysis of a 2011 public opinion survey demonstrate that nativism was an independent and significant predictor of opposition to health care reform and that this effect held for both Republicans as well as Democrats, although the relationship is stronger for Republicans.” [paper here]

What this demonstrates is that when we approach a policy issue, none of us looks at it in a vacuum. We bring to it the ideas and opinions we associate with the people and parties advocating the various positions, among other things. Now add to that the fact that since Barack Obama took office in 2009, conservatives have been told, over and over and over again, that Barack Obama is coming to do them harm precisely because of their race.

No one who pays any attention to conservative media can honestly deny that this has been the case. The idea that Barack Obama is leading an army of black people coming to exact revenge on whites for past sins has been a staple of conservative rhetoric since the beginning of his presidency. Often, this is framed in terms of reparations for slavery: whatever policy Obama happens to be advocating at the moment, including health-care reform, conservative audiences are told that it is an effort by Obama to take their money and give it to black people to right a historical wrong for which they are blameless. In a 2009 discussion about the stimulus bill, Rush Limbaugh told his listeners, “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations!” Not long before, Limbaugh said this:

“The president of the United States? We’re talking now about a Supreme Court justice? The days of them [racial minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry. And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about, gang. He’s angry, he’s gon’ cut this country down to size, he’s gon’ make it pay for all its multicultural mistakes that it has made, its mistreatment of minorities. I know exactly what’s going on.”

And yes, that was a little black dialect Rush threw in there, just to be clear. About the ACA, Limbaugh said, “This is a civil rights bill, this is reparations, whatever you want to call it.” Or another time: “I think I’ve finally figured out why Obama is pushing so hard on this health care bill. He just wants us to have the same health care and plan that he had in Kenya.” In early 2012, Limbaugh said this:

“Obama has a plan. Obama’s plan is based on his inherent belief that this country was immorally and illegitimately founded by a very small minority of white Europeans who screwed everybody else since the founding to get all the money and all the goodies, and it’s about time that the scales were made even. And that’s what’s going on here. And that’s why the president is lawless, and that’s why there is no prosecution of the Black Panthers for voter intimidation, because it’s not possible for a minority to intimidate the white majority. It’s not possible. It’s always been the other way around. This is just payback. This is ‘how does it feel’ time.”

Rush Limbaugh has the largest talk-radio audience in the United States, and he is admired and lauded by one Republican politician after another. But it isn’t just him. Bill O’Reilly told his viewers, “I think Mr. Obama allows historical grievances — things like slavery, bad treatment for Native Americans and U.S. exploitation of Third World countries — to shape his economic thinking. . . . He gives the bad things about America far too much weight, leading to his desire to redistribute wealth, thereby correcting historical grievance.” Almost any domestic policy choice, whether it involves taxes or budgets or health care, can be characterized as an act of racial vengeance exacted upon whites for the benefit of blacks.

Glenn Beck has been another prominent advocate of the reparations theory. “Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill,” he said in 2009, “are transforming America. And they are all driven by President Obama’s thinking on one idea: reparations.” When the Shirley Sherrod story broke (that is, when Andrew Breitbart deceptively edited video of a speech the Agriculture Department official gave to make is seem as if she were confessing to treating white people unfairly when she was actually saying the opposite), Beck said, “Have we suddenly transported into 1956 except it’s the other way around? . . . Does anybody else have a sense that there are some that just want revenge? Doesn’t it feel that way?”

Intimations of actual violence to come are rare, but they’re out there. Beck once said the New Black Panther party was part of Obama’s “army of thugs.” Conservative science fiction novelist Orson Scott Card, author of “Ender’s Game,” imagined a future in which Obama seized dictatorial powers and mobilized “young out-of-work urban men” into a brownshirt army. “Instead of doing drive-by shootings in their own neighborhoods, these young thugs will do beatings and murders of people ‘trying to escape’ — people who all seem to be leaders and members of groups that oppose Obama.”

This is the rhetoric in which conservatives have been marinating for five years. Given that, it is not at all surprising that for some of them — I repeat, for some of them — ideas about Obama’s policies, including the Affordable Care Act, are inextricably bound to their feelings, whether conscious or unconscious, about race. It would be irresponsible and unfair to say that all or even most opposition to the ACA is rooted in racism. But it would be blind to deny that race has had a role in keeping that opposition so fervid for so long.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 23, 2014

May 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Relentless Racial Hostility”: GOP Has Done Everything It Can To Make Sure Obama Is The Wrong Color

Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller said what’s been said countless times and worse acted on by the GOP countless times. That is that more than a few of their numbers have reflexively dithered, delayed, and flat-out tried to torpedo every policy initiative or piece of legislation that President Obama has backed solely as Rockefeller said, “because he’s the wrong color.” Rockefeller should know. He sits on a number of Senate committees and subcommittees and he’s undoubtedly seen and heard the blatant displays of not-so-subtle bigotry from more than a few of his GOP congressional adversaries. But Rockefeller is only the latest political luminary to state the obvious. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist bluntly told an interviewer that he got out of the GOP because of its open hostility to Obama. Crist made sure that he meant hostility based not on legitimate political disagreements but on race when he specifically referred to Obama as the “African-American President.”

The relentless racial hostility toward Obama goes far beyond simply the routine racial lampooning and mocking of Obama in grotesque signs, posters, chants and harangues by loose-hinged tea party elements and unreconstructed bigots. It has been subtly stoked and orchestrated by the GOP with the clear political aim of disrupting, destabilizing and rendering politically impotent Obama’s program, initiatives and proposed legislation.

The final presidential vote in 2008 gave plenty of warning of the lethalness of the GOP’s core conservative white constituency when aroused. Overall, Obama garnered slightly more than 40 percent of the white male vote. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. The only thing that even made Obama’s showing respectable in those states was the record turnout and percentage of black votes that he got. They were all Democratic votes.

A Harvard post-election assessment of the 2008 presidential vote found that race did factor into the presidential election and that it cost Obama an added three to five percent of the national popular vote. Put bluntly, if Obama had been white the election would have been a route. During the GOP presidential primary campaign, GOP presidential candidates made sure of that with the stream of race-tinged references Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney made to food stamps, welfare, work ethics and an entitlement society. Then there were the racially-loaded newsletters from Ron Paul that resurfaced. The candidates when challenged ducked, dodged and denied any racial intent, or in the case of Paul’s newsletter, that he even penned them.

His 2012 reelection victory gave even more warning that little had changed. In fact, it got worse, he got a smaller percentage of the overall white vote than he did in 2008, and that included a small but significant defection of younger white voters who backed him in 2008.

There has not been a moment that has gone by that top GOP congressional leaders have not called Obama out on some issue. The framing of their criticism has not been polite, gentlemanly or exhibited the traditional courtesy and respect for the office of the presidency. This has done much to create a climate of distrust and vilification that has made it near legitimate, even expected, that Obama be heckled. The GOP’s official heckling has taken many forms, all mean-spirited and petty, rather than purely the customary expression of opposition to policies that clashing political parties and their leaders show toward each other.

The near textbook example of how the GOP has subtly used race to sledge hammer Obama has been its take-no-prisoners drumbeat attack on Attorney General Eric Holder. He’s been called on the GOP congressional carpet in countless hearings, and pilloried, insulted, and abused for every concocted sin from his alleged master mind bungling of the fast and furious gun sting to his supposed politicizing of the Justice Department. The attacks have all been punctuated by screams for his resignation or firing. Holder is not just a convenient surrogate punching bag for Obama. He is the one top administration official who’s not afraid to punch back at the GOP for its blatant play of the race card. He’s as much said so and this has only made his inquistors even more manic in their racial assault on Obama vis-a-vis Holder.

The GOP also in a cynical, thinly transparent move has even tried to turn the racial tables on Obama by tarring him as the race divider and baiter. His lambaste of the GOP at a keynote speech at Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention in April for doing everything humanly possible to subvert voting rights through its endless legislative ploys and constructing every obstacle it can to enforcement was the opening needed to use this tact. It won’t be the last time for this.

Which just proves again that Rockefeller and Crist as so many others before them got it right. For many in the GOP, Obama is simply the wrong color and that won’t change.

 

By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Huffington Post Blog, May 8, 2014

May 9, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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