Right-wing media outlets have turned to serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey as their go-to expert on the Ebola outbreak. But McCaughey has a history of hyping false health care myths and was the chief architect behind the myth that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) included so-called "death panels," a discredited claim that McCaughey pushed even after being dubbed PolitiFact's Lie of the Year in 2009.
Fox News attempted to spin reports that some health insurance plans that do not meet minimum standards under the Affordable Care Act will be discontinued as a "new Obamacare bombshell" and death blow to the health care law.
The October 9 edition of America's Newsroom raised concerns over recent news that some health insurance plans not in compliance with the Affordable Care Act would be cancelled at the end of the year. Fox Business host Stuart Varney declared the cancellations to be a "political bombshell." The previous day, network host Shannon Bream called news of the cancelled plans a "new Obamacare controversy."
A headline on FoxNews.com declared that the canceled plans were evidence of an "Obamacare Death Knell":
Of course, the cancellation of plans that do not meet minimum coverage requirements was always a "part of the design of the health care law," as the New York Times explained, and meant to allow new insurance plans to be "more comprehensive and fair, with prices less variable by customers' ages and health status."
Last year, the Obama administration delayed the requirement that all plans cover a minimum standard of health benefits and medical bills, giving states the ability to allow insurers to extend existing plans that were not up to par -- something many states and insurance providers opted against. As the Washington Post reported, federal policy allows these non-compliant plans to continue through 2017 in some states, but some insurers are cancelling them now in favor of ACA-compliant plans.
Non-compliant plans which fall short of now-basic standards can be dangerous to the policy holder -- as studies show being underinsured carries many of the same risks as lacking insurance all together. As a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told the Post, those who may lose their non-compliant plans will "have access to better options through the health-insurance marketplace . . . [including] the opportunity to qualify for financial assistance to help them afford premiums and improved consumer protections."
Fox also ignored the realities of the insurance market -- these insurance plans may have been discontinued anyway. According to Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms (CHIR), most consumers have year-long policies with health insurance companies that often changed at the end of the policy year, and "in most states insurers are allowed to increase premiums, increase cost-sharing, and/or reduce the scope of benefits covered."
Such phony outrage over discontinued plans is just the latest in Fox News' sustained campaign to undermine the ACA with misinformation, spin, and zombie lies -- despite news that the health care law has greatly reduced the nation's uninsured rate.
On the October 2 edition of Fox News' The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson was surprised to find out that President Obama called out Fox News' Obamacare coverage during a speech. Carlson asked reporter Ed Henry "Why? My question to you, Mr. Henry, is why would he do this?"
President Obama delivered a speech on the economy at Northwestern University today, during which he brought up the Republican party's inability to focus their campaigns on attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pointing out that contrary to Fox News' coverage, the health care law is working well:
So I laid out what I know has happened over the six years of my presidency so far, and I've laid out an agenda for what I think should happen to make us grow even better, grow even faster. A true opposition party should now have the courage to lay out their agenda, hopefully also grounded in facts.
There's a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on deficits -- it's because the deficits have come down at almost a record pace, and they're now manageable. There's a reason fewer Republicans you hear them running about Obamacare -- because while good, affordable health care might seem like a fanged threat to the freedom of the American people on Fox News -- (laughter) -- it's turns out it's working pretty well in the real world.
Carlson was confused as to why the president called out Fox News, but perhaps the reason is that just last week the network revived the debunked death panel myth amid news that Obamacare was working. As Vox reported, although the health care law is working "in the real world," in conservative media it's a disaster:
[C]osts are lower than expected, enrollment is higher than expected, the number of insurers participating in the exchanges is increasing, and more states are joining the Medicaid expansion. Millions of people have insurance who didn't have it before. The law is working. But a lot of the people who are convinced Obamacare is a disaster will never know that, because the voices they trust will never tell them.
This post has been updated for accuracy.
Conservative media attempted to revive the "death panels" zombie lie amid several weeks of good news about the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) success.
In a September 17 piece for The Atlantic, former White House health care adviser Ezekiel J. Emanuel outlined his opinions on end of life healthcare and argued that 75 is the ideal age to die.
Right-wing media jumped on Emanuel's comments as an opportunity to resuscitate the thoroughly debunked claim that the ACA would create "death panels" to ration health care and slow the growth of medical costs.
A September 24 post from National Review Online claimed that Emanuel's Atlantic article demonstrated that conservative warnings that the ACA was "a first step toward medical rationing" were plausible: "Read Emanuel's diatribe against living too long, and suddenly Sarah Palin's attack on Obamacare's "death panels" does not seem so far-fetched."
Fox News also used Emmanuel's comments as an opportunity to discuss "death panels" in a September 26 segment on Fox & Friends. Responding to Emmanuel's suggestion that there is an ideal time to die, Fox contributor Dr. Marc Siegel asked if that means they should "write off" patients at a certain age, suggesting the Post Office or IRS may one day get to make that decision. Co-host Steve Doocy added, "Maybe you're talking about those death panels that have been rumored for so long."
While right-wing media twists itself into knots stoking outrage over the long-discredited myth of "death panels," actual news reports have recently underlined the ACA's successes.
On September 18, the Obama administration announced that 7.3 million Americans had enrolled in health insurance plans through the Obamacare exchanges and paid their premiums -- a number that is "much higher than the 6 million that the Congressional Budget Office forecast would be covered this year," Politico noted, and debunks conservative allegations that the administration is "cooking the books."
But this wasn't the only good news for the health care law. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell recently reported that the ACA has reduced the amount of uninsured people in the United States by 26 percent. A recent report from the Commonwealth Fund also found that the health care law had decreased the uninsured rate by as much as 13 percent among Latinos, a group that has "historically suffered the highest uninsurance rate in the U.S," according to the Huffington Post.
From the September 26 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Following the Obama administration's announcement that 7.3 million Americans have enrolled in Obamacare, Fox News dishonestly spun the enrollment numbers as proof both of the law's failure and that the administration inflated its initial numbers.
The September 18 announcement that 7.3 million Americans are enrolled in health insurance plans through the Obamacare exchanges incited a new wave of right-wing criticisms and accusations over the health care reform law.
On the September 22 edition of Special Report, Fox's chief national correspondent Jim Angle spun the enrollment numbers, reporting that "President Obama's repeated claims about enrollment in Obamacare are getting a significant downgrade," pointing to "erosion" of 700,000 enrollments from the 8 million plans that had been selected by the end of open enrollment in April:
A Fox News report failed to disclose that an anti-Obamacare doctor featured objecting to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is running for state representative as a Republican in New Hampshire.
Continuing Fox's campaign to boost anti-Obama candidates in New Hampshire, including former Fox contributor Scott Brown, an August 8 Special Report segment highlighted the story of Dr. Joe Hannon, who was purportedly driven out of practice due to the ACA. During an interview with Fox, Dr. Hannon claimed, "The health care act was the final nail in the coffin. It wasn't the main reason or the only reason, but it made the decision a lot easier for me."
From the August 8 edition of Fox News' Fox News Reporting: Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire:
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An upcoming Fox News special report promises to expose Obamacare problems in New Hampshire, where the network's former contributor Scott Brown is running for U.S. Senate. The special will feature an interview with Brown, who has declared that "Obamacare isn't working" and called the law a "monstrosity."
Airing the night of August 8, "Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire" promises to chronicle the effect of the Affordable Care Act on New Hampshire residents, such as a doctor who retired rather than deal with health care reform and a "lesbian [who] opts out of Obamacare, questioning why she should pay for reproductive care she doesn't want or need."
Why the focus on New Hampshire? According to the network, in part because the state is "where this year's election will be key to determining which party controls the Senate." This appears to be the first time Fox has run a special focused on a single state since at least 2012.
Brown himself will participate in the special and promoted it earlier today, tweeting:
Fox is intimately involved with the New Hampshire Senate race, as its former contributor is seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Brown began teasing his candidacy while still receiving a paycheck from Fox, and recently credited his role on the network with inspiring his campaign for Senate.
From the start, Brown has focused his campaign on his opposition to Obamacare. His website states that the "people of New Hampshire take pride in individual liberty and freedom. Obamacare demolishes both." He went on an "Obamacare isn't Working" tour and has repeatedly criticized his opponent for voting in favor of the law, which he deemed a "monstrosity" in need of repeal.
From the August 8 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the July 23 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The Wall Street Journal portrayed the D.C. Circuit's radical decision nullifying tax credits for consumers on the federal exchanges of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a check on President Obama's "penchant for treating laws as unlimited grants of power," all while ignoring the fact that multiple federal courts -- including the Supreme Court itself -- have upheld or acknowledged the very same tax breaks that the Journal now condemns as "illegitimate."
On July 22, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its split decision in Halbig v. Burwell, one of many lawsuits applauded by conservatives that have challenged the ACA since President Obama signed it into law in 2010. Three of these lawsuits are based on the same legal arguments of Halbig, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Halbig-like challenge and upheld the validity of the tax credits on the same day Halbig was decided. The plaintiffs in these cases, relying on a legal theory that has long been a favorite of right-wing media, argued that, somehow, a law drafted to make insurance affordable for all Americans actually denies crucial tax credits for the 5 million consumers who purchased insurance through the federal exchange because their home states refused to set up their own health insurance sites.
Celebrating the majority decision in Halbig by calling the case a "remedial civics lesson" for the Obama administration, the Journal misleadingly claimed that the "plain statutory language of ObamaCare repeatedly stipulates" that the tax credits are only available for state exchanges. The editorial board largely ignored the contradictory ruling from the Fourth Circuit and the vast majority of experts knowledgeable with the law and the basics of statutory construction that took no issue with the administration's commonsense execution of the ACA's tax credits:
The courts usually defer to executive interpretation when statutes are ambiguous, but Mr. Obama's lawyers argued that the law unambiguously means the opposite of the words its drafters used. Judge Thomas Griffith knocked this argument away by noting in his ruling that, "After all, the federal government is not a 'State,'" and therefore "a federal Exchange is not an 'Exchange established by the State.'"
The White House also argued that the court should ignore the law's literal words because Congress intended all along to subsidize everybody, calling the contrary conclusion an "absurd result." Yet this is merely ex post facto regret for the recklessness and improvisation of the way ObamaCare became law, when no trick was too dirty after Democrats lost their 60-vote Senate supermajority. Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass the bill to find out what's in it. Now we know.
Fox News was quick to celebrate a federal appellate court's split decision striking down a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even though that ruling was almost immediately rebuked by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, consistent with the decisions of two other federal courts and the widespread opinion of legal experts.
On July 22, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Halbig v. Burwell, with the two Republican appointees on the three-judge panel holding that a provision of the ACA counterintuitively makes health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans by prohibiting the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who live in states that refused to set up health insurance exchanges. Those consumers must instead buy insurance from the federal exchange website, and many had relied on the tax credits to reduce the cost of insurance. The legal theory behind this lawsuit -- that the "Affordable Care Act" would somehow decline to provide affordable care to its intended beneficiaries -- has been hyped by right-wing media since the lawsuit was filed. National Review Online called the suit "ingenious," and Washington Post columnist George Will claimed that the IRS's clarification that tax credits are available in both state and federally-run health care exchanges was an example of the agency's "breezy indifference to legality."
Fox News immediately jumped on board with the two Republican judges' validation of this right-wing legal challenge, despite the dissent's warning that "this case is about Appellants' not-so-veiled attempt to gut" the ACA rather than sound statutory interpretation.
On the July 22 edition of Outnumbered, the panel accused the Obama administration of "ignoring the ruling of the D.C. Circuit" by announcing that it would unremarkably continue to provide the subsidies while the case was appealed, but still complained about the cost of premiums that will go up if subsidies are eliminated. Co-host Harris Faulkner complained that the ruling "reminds me of the infamous quote, 'if you like your doctor, you can keep it'" since consumers may not be able to obtain cost-saving tax subsidies in the wake of the Halbig decision. Neither Faulkner, nor any of her co-hosts, mentioned the right-wing origins of this suit -- or the fact that the express purpose of Halbig and other cases like it, was to "stop the Obama health care law" by making it too expensive for consumers to purchase without tax credits.
Fox News turned to Dr. Ben Carson -- a contributor who's compared health reform to slavery -- to give the network's first commentary on a federal court ruling that invalidated a portion of the Affordable Care Act. On July 22, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to strike down federal subsidies for health insurance plans purchased through federal exchanges in the 36 states which did not establish their own marketplaces under the ACA.
Directly after the court's decision, Fox's America's Newsroom reported the breaking news and then trotted out contributor Ben Carson, an anti-ACA activist and retired neurosurgeon, for his thoughts on the ruling. He praised the decision, saying he was "very pleased."