Right-wing media are celebrating now that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court have issued their unprecedented ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with the Court adopting a number of conservative myths in the decision that allows sex discrimination in the name of corporate religion.
On June 30, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court -- five men and no women -- held that "closely held" for-profit secular corporations like Hobby Lobby are exempt under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) from the "contraception mandate." This so-called mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), requires employer-sponsored health insurance to cover comprehensive preventive health care, including birth control. In so holding, the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby gave credence to some of the worst conservative myths that have been steadily advanced by right-wing media.
The fact that Hobby Lobby likely employs workers who have no moral or religious dispute with contraception didn't seem to be of much concern to outlets like The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, or Fox News. From the start, NRO framed the case as a David and Goliath-like scenario, with the Green family owners of Hobby Lobby as victims of the federal government -- despite the fact that Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation, owned by billionaires, with hundreds of stores across the country. Fox & Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck went so far as to call the contraception mandate evidence of the "moral decay" of the Obama administration's policies. For right-wing media, the religious beliefs of the owners took precedence over those of their female employees. Apparently, the Supreme Court agreed.
The Court attempted to limit its decision to "closely held" corporations like Hobby Lobby, but according to experts, more than 90 percent of corporations are considered to be "closely held." In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito downplayed the significance of the Hobby Lobby decision's expansion of the concept of corporate personhood, writing that "a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends" and claiming there was nothing radical about extending rights "whether constitutional or statutory" to for-profit secular corporations. His opinion conflated these businesses with non-profits just as right-wing media had urged.
The religious rights of the employees, now held hostage by their employers' moral objections, did not appear to make much of an impact on the Court's conservative majority.
Moreover, wrote Alito, the birth control requirement was not "the least restrictive means" of achieving the "compelling governmental interest" of ensuring no-cost comprehensive preventive health care services for everyone. Instead, said the majority, the government should "assume the cost of providing the contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers' religious objections," thus shifting the employee-earned benefit of health insurance from a billion-dollar corporation to the general public.
It was enough for Alito that the Greens "sincerely believed" that the contraceptives at issue in the case are "abortifacients" -- echoing right-wing media's constant confusion of the two -- even though they really, really aren't.
Right-wing media personalities took victory laps following the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in which the Court ruled that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide health coverage for employees that includes contraception if the employer has a religious objection.
From the June 30 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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From the June 27 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News host Martha MacCallum described the pending Hobby Lobby case -- a challenge to the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all employer-sponsored health insurance cover contraceptives as part of preventive services -- by repeating four right-wing media myths in the span of 17 seconds. MacCallum adopted the false narrative of the religious owners of the for-profit, secular chain store and its supporters during the June 25 edition of America's Newsroom:
1. "The Hobby Lobby case, which challenges the Obamacare conception mandate that requires ..."
As political science professor Scott Lemieux explained, "there is no 'contraception mandate.' Hobby Lobby is not legally required to compensate its employees with health insurance at all. ... What is erroneously described as a 'mandate' simply means that if corporations choose to take advantage of the tax benefits for compensating employees in health insurance rather than wages, the insurance has to meet minimum coverage standards." In other words, Hobby Lobby can avoid contraception coverage by providing no health insurance at all -- but it may not hold its employees hostage by sponsoring health insurance policies that are not complaint with the ACA.
2. "... that employers provide ..."
As Georgetown Law professor Marty Lederman has written, it would be the federal government that requires the insurance companies -- not Hobby Lobby -- to meet the minimum coverage standards that include comprehensive preventive services, including birth control. According to Lederman, "Once the HHS Rule goes into effect, it would not be the Greens who 'directed' the Hobby Lobby ... insurance plans, in any real sense, to cover contraception: That would, instead, be a legal requirement imposed by the government -- and it's a requirement that applies to any and all such plans throughout the nation, whether sponsored by an employer or not."
3. "... free access to conception methods ..."
It turns out that so-called "free" birth control isn't actually free. In fact, "it is misleading -- and politically dangerous to say so," according to Jodi Jacobson, editor-in-chief of RH Reality Check, because "if you have insurance, you pay for it, either by virtue of your labor or out of your own pocket, or, depending on the situation, both. And under the ACA, it is now mandated that your insurance plan cover certain benefits without a co-pay. This does not make them 'free.' It means that you are paying for that service as part of your premium. You earned it, you paid for it, it is yours. If you pay for it, you deserve to get it."
4. "... as part of a comprehensive Obamacare health policy, includ[ed] in that would be some drugs which could trigger abortion."
Despite the fact that Hobby Lobby "sincerely believes" that some contraceptives result in the termination of a pregnancy, the science simply does not support this claim. According to The New York Times, "It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion ... is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work. Because they block creation of fertilized eggs, they would not meet abortion opponents' definition of abortion-inducing drugs."
As the current Supreme Court term winds down, a number of highly anticipated cases will be released in the coming week. Here are five of the decisions right-wing media have repeatedly misinformed about, as well as the top myths and facts.
The Wall Street Journal is celebrating a recent Supreme Court ruling that will allow an anti-choice activist group to challenge the constitutionality of an Ohio law that bans false statements in election campaigns, a state statute that is opposed by free speech advocates across the political spectrum. But the WSJ went on to erroneously argue that the false statement at issue in the case -- that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) funds abortions -- is actually true, because contraceptives are actually "abortifacients."
On June 16, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the group, Susan B. Anthony List, had standing to sue over the Ohio statute. Susan B. Anthony List, which is "dedicated to electing candidates and pursuing policies that will reduce and ultimately end abortion," ran into trouble when it tried to take out a billboard calling Ohio congressman Steve Driehaus' vote for the ACA a vote for "taxpayer funded abortion." Driehaus filed a complaint against Susan B. Anthony under the Ohio statute, but ultimately withdrew it after he lost his election. Nonetheless, the organization challenged the constitutionality of the false statement law, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights.
The Court's decision did not address the merits of Susan B. Anthony's claim. But that didn't stop some right-wing media outlets from calling the ruling "a big win ... for the pro-life movement." The Wall Street Journal evidently agreed with this analysis and added that the decision is "a rebuke to politicians who don't want to be criticized" in a June 16 editorial. The WSJ went on to argue that the billboard at issue had been "vindicated" because the ACA forces "religious groups to finance abortifacents."
From the editorial:
Monday's decision concerned whether Susan B. Anthony was able to sue. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had said it could not because Mr. Driehaus withdrew his complaint after he lost. But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the Court that this decision improperly minimized the burden on groups whose speech is chilled for fear that they could be sanctioned or sued. Lower courts will now revisit the constitutional challenge.
As it happens, Susan B. Anthony's billboard claim has been vindicated by the Obama Administration's rule forcing religious groups to finance abortifacients in their health-care policies for employees. In a democracy, voters rather than a priesthood of regulators are obliged to sort out the truth or falsity of political claims. Congrats to Susan B. Anthony, and perhaps the Sixth Circuit will seek out some remedial First Amendment education.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by conservative psychiatrist Paul McHugh smeared transgender people as delusional and disordered, ignoring medical consensus and arguing that transgender patients should be denied medically necessary treatment.
In the June 13 edition of the Wall Street Journal, McHugh lamented the growing attention to transgender rights in public policy and the media, warning that these developments signal a troubling trend toward affirming transgender identities rather than treating them as "confusions" and illnesses:
Yet policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention. This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken--it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.
The transgendered suffer a disorder of "assumption" like those in other disorders familiar to psychiatrists. With the transgendered, the disordered assumption is that the individual differs from what seems given in nature--namely one's maleness or femaleness. Other kinds of disordered assumptions are held by those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, where the assumption that departs from physical reality is the belief by the dangerously thin that they are overweight.
At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. "Sex change" is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.
Expert consensus doesn't comport with McHugh's depiction of trans people as mentally ill. As the American Psychological Association notes, experts now acknowledge transgender identities as "part of the human condition," with many individuals' gender identities established by the age of four. Increased awareness of the realities of the transgender experience led the American Psychiatric Association in 2012 to stop classifying being transgender as a mental disorder, replacing the previous diagnosis of gender identity disorder with gender dysphoria, the distress that often comes from "a marked incongruence between one's experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender." But that didn't stop McHugh from using some form of the word "disorder" 10 times to describe transgender people.
A Columbus Dispatch editorial revived attacks against the problems associated with the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which have largely been fixed, to continue to attack the law as a whole. Yet, despite pointing out flaws from early in the process, the editorial neither mentions the thousands who have received insurance coverage through the law nor the other benefits the law provides Ohioans.
The June 12 editorial discussed the confirmation of Sylvia Burwell as the new secretary of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services but immediately pivoted into a discussion of the flawed rollout of the health care exchanges, reviving old issues such as the Healthcare.gov website's initial technical problems. The Dispatch used the launch problems to claim that "The Affordable Care Act remains a deeply flawed law that was an ill-though-out, politically driven document."
Reviving attacks on the initial rollout of the law leaves out 8 months of improvements and stated plans for future fixes. After website issues were addressed, thousands more Americans were able to use the website in November to enroll for health care coverage, contributing to the 8 million people who gained health insurance nationally due to the ACA and surpassing expectations. In addition, as Wired reported, a new group of programmers has been working on "Marketplace 2.0" which will add new features and a simpler interface to the website for the next enrollment period beginning November 15.
Despite the Dispatch's focus on the initial rollout, the law is much more than a website and has provided tangible benefits to Ohioans that the editorial omitted. According to the Dispatch's own reporting, 155,000 Ohioans selected affordable plans through Ohio's federally run exchange as of May. Moreover, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, 308,000 Ohioans were able to obtain insurance through Medicaid, with 184,670 enrolling as newly eligible through the hard fought Medicaid expansion plan pushed by Gov. John Kasich (R). The numbers reflect the gains in insurance coverage but only provide a small glimpse at the law's overall impact leaving out the myriad benefits the law brought to Ohioans including allowing young adults to remain insured on their parent's plans until 26, barring insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions, and ensuring that insurance rates are not going to increase just because of the applicant's gender or that someone would be dropped from coverage because of illness.
This post has been updated for clarity.
From the June 3 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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A Columbus Dispatch editorial claimed the IRS was attempting to punish employers for sending their employees to Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges instead of providing employer-based insurance. However, the rule would ensure that employers don't get a special benefit for sending their employees to the exchanges, which they are still allowed to do, while preserving the employer-based health care system.
The May 30 editorial criticized an IRS rule first reported in the New York Times that claimed the rule meant that the IRS would stop "any wholesale move by employers to dump employees into the exchanges" by subjecting certain businesses to a tax penalty of $100 per day for each worker that is sent to the individual marketplace instead of provided insurance by the employer. The Dispatch, which has often used its editorial page to mislead about the ACA, extrapolated this claim to float the theory that "the move is an acknowledgement" by the administration that people don't like the exchanges and the law is making things worse for "millions of Americans":
In this context, a report in The New York Times over Memorial Day weekend takes on greater meaning. The story revealed that the Internal Revenue Service has issued a rule that punishes employers that end company-sponsored health plans and dump employees onto the new government health-care exchanges.
The move is an acknowledgement that many who have gone to the exchanges have found the policies more expensive and less desirable than expected. The law has made things worse for millions of Americans in the name of extending coverage to a relatively small number of people.
The Dispatch's theory that the new rule is an effort to shield people from the exchanges and the purported ill effects of the law is not accurate. The IRS rule is actually an effort to ensure that certain companies can't take advantage of a loophole allowing them to take tax deductions for moving their employees to the exchanges. As Modern Healthcare explained, the rule is intended to prevent companies from "double-dipping" by "threatening massive fines against companies that offer employees tax-advantaged money to help them buy federally subsidized health plans on the Obamacare insurance exchanges." The article continued:
The need for the new IRS rules came about because tax consultants have been aggressively hunting for ways to combine the tax write-offs that come with traditional group coverage with the federal subsidies available to buy individual coverage through an insurance exchange, said Joel Ario, a managing director at Manatt Health Solutions and a former HHS director over insurance exchanges.
"There are two mutually exclusive worlds, and there are people who keep trying to figure out how to use money from one in the other," Ario said. "That's what the IRS is trying to prevent."
From the May 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the May 29 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers debunked the suggestion that problems at the Veterans Health Administration bode ill for those insured under President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
On May 15, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee after the VA's inspector general launched an investigation into what The Washington Post described as "multiple reports of alleged preventable deaths and attempts to cover up treatment delays at VA health clinics." Conservative media have suggested these events prove government provides inferior health care and have attacked Obamacare and pushed for the privatization of the VA's health system.
On the May 25 edition of Fox News Sunday, George Will echoed these claims, stating that the unfolding story shows that "big government is too big for meaningful oversight and effective management" and citing the Postal Service and Amtrak as other examples.
Asked by host Chris Wallace whether she agrees with the notion that "it's the VA now and it will be Obamacare later," Powers pointed out that Obamacare and the veterans health system are very different. She went on to explain that "this idea that somehow putting things off into the private sector is going to make everything work also doesn't work if you consider your experiences, at least experiences I've had with insurance companies, health insurance companies," and noted that Republicans "funnel" all their arguments through the notion that "big government is a problem." Watch:
POWERS: They're not the same thing. Of course, the VA is really government-run health care where you have the government controlling everything. That's not what Obamacare is. Obamacare is more like insurance. You don't have the doctors working for Obamacare. So I don't think it's the same thing. I also think the private sector has a lot of problems. You know, Amtrak, if you have a problem with Amtrak, well I have a lot of problems with USAir and American and United. So this idea that somehow putting things off into the private sector is going to make everything work also doesn't work if you consider your experiences, at least experiences I've had with insurance companies, health insurance companies. So this is not a surprising argument coming from Republicans. It is always their argument. Take anything that is happening in the world and this is the argument that they funnel it through. It's always proof that big government is a problem. So it's not surprising.
As The Washington Post editorial board noted, "studies have shown that the VA system, which serves almost 6.5 million veterans annually, as a whole outperforms the rest of the health care system by just about every metric." Indeed, VA hospital patients consistently receive better care than individuals in the private sector and have higher customer satisfaction.
Conservative media are exploiting alleged problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to argue for the privatization of the VA's health care system -- a solution opposed by experts and veterans organizations as unnecessary and ineffective.