REPORT: Broadcast News Ignores Role Of Health Insurance In Reducing Economic Insecurity


In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the website.

In First Month Of Exchanges, Broadcast News Ignores Economic Insecurity

Only 1 Segment On ACA Mentioned Role In Reducing Economic Insecurity. In the first month following the opening of ACA health care exchanges, from October 1st to October 31st, broadcast morning, evening, and Sunday news programs mentioned the positive relationship between expanded health care coverage and economic security in only one of the total 231 segments focused on the health care law. The single mention came from the October 20 edition of ABC's This Week, when Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told guest host Martha Raddatz:

PELOSI: I don't know what they do because it doesn't matter. This is - has to be fixed. But what doesn't have to be fixed is the fact that tens of millions more people will have access to affordable quality health care, that no longer having a preexisting medical condition will bar you from getting affordable care, that all of the initiatives that are very positive for a healthier life, liberty to pursue your happiness, not chained to a policy but following your passion, all of that is in place. [ABC News, This Week, 10/20/13, via Nexis]

Coverage Puts Glitches In Spotlight. An overwhelming number of segments on the implementation of the ACA -- 120 total -- focused on glitches in the website. The second greatest number of mentions focused on GOP efforts to delay or defund the health care law, far overshadowing mentions of new benefits of the law or its role in reducing economic insecurity.


Note: Mentions in the above graph do not add up to total segments due to some segments focusing on other aspects of the ACA rollout.

Experts Have Noted That Expanded Health Insurance Decreases Economic Insecurity

Brookings Institution: "Universal, Effective And Affordable Health Insurance" Is "Economic Imperative." In a July 2007 report -- prior to the passage of the ACA -- economists Jason Furman and Robert Rubin of the Brookings Institution argued that "America's patchwork, incomplete system of health insurance impedes the flexibility the economy needs to thrive and grow." [The Brookings Institution, July 2007]

Johns Hopkins University Research: Individual Mandate Will "Help Provide Financial Security." According to a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, authors Dr. Edward D. Miller,CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Scott A. Berkowitz, medical director for Accountable Care for Johns Hopkins, noted that "by increasing the number of insured individuals, the mandate should reduce the cost of routine health care services and help provide financial security from potentially devastating health care costs." [, 8/9/11]

Paul Krugman: Republican Attempts To Dismantle ACA Would Decrease Financial Security. In a commentary on Republican attempts to dismantle provisions of the ACA, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noted that such attempts amount to denying "essential health care and financial security to millions of their fellow Americans." [The New York Times, 7/25/13]

Alan Blinder: "Access To Affordable Health Care" Is Essential To Fundamental Rights. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed concerning the then-forthcoming Supreme Court ruling on the ACA, Princeton economist and former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder explained how affordable health care access allows individuals to pursue personal and professional goals. Blinder noted the potential perils associated with health insurance, but argued that the reforms were necessary to expand access to all citizens:

Beyond the economics, our country was founded on the idea that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable. Access to affordable health care is surely essential to two of these three rights, maybe to all three. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/19/12]

Wider Opportunities For Women: Access To Health Insurance A Key Factor In Reducing Economic Insecurity. According to a Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) report titled "Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and America's Families," full-time employment is often not enough to provide Americans with economic security. According to WOW's internal metric -- the Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) -- so-called "employment-based benefits" such as health insurance are key factors in providing economic security:

In 2011, 63% of working-age adults and children living below the BEST did not have access to or participate in employer-sponsored health insurance and more than 22% of working-age adults and children living in households that lacked economic security incomes lacked health insurance of any type. [Wider Opportunities for Women, Fall 2013]

Jared Bernstein: Health Care Reform Could Boost Real Incomes. In a June 2011 hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, economist Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that by controlling health care costs -- a key goal of the ACA -- middle-class families' real incomes would rise substantially:

The Affordable Care Act was clearly targeted at helping to improve middle-class health care security, by lowering the growth of health care spending and premium costs relative to their expected trend. Analysis by the President's Council of Economic Advisors that by lowering the growth rate of health care costs, the real income of middle class families in 2020 will be $2,600 higher than would otherwise be the case. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 6/23/11]

Reduced Economic Insecurity Could Spur Entrepreneurship, Create Jobs

CEPR: Lack Of Entrepreneurship In United States Linked To Limited Health Care Access. In a comparative study of small business employment among member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), economists with the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) concluded that a lack of universal health care access in the United States was a major contributing factor in this country's comparatively low small business activity. The United States ranked near the bottom of every CEPR analysis of small business economic involvement and productivity:

One plausible explanation for the consistently higher shares of self-employment and small-business employment in the rest of the world's rich economies is that all have some form of universal access to health care. The high cost to self-employed workers and small businesses of the private, employer-based health care system in place in the United States may act as a significant deterrent to small start-up companies, an experience not shared by entrepreneurs in countries with universal access to health care. [Center for Economic and Policy Research, August 2009]

NBC News: New Health Exchanges Could Boost Entrepreneurship. Citing the phenomenon of "job lock," in which employees remain in positions to which they are ill-suited in order to retain employer-provided benefits, economist Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute theorized that employees would be more able to change jobs or start a business as a result of the ACA:

"The Affordable Care Act completely changes the playing field," says Paul Fronstin, director of the health research programs at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. "You don't need your employer any more for health benefits."

It may be particularly attractive for older workers -- those in their late 50s and early 60s still too young for Medicare -- who will find they can get affordable insurance despite health problems. That will free them from the trap of needing to work, but being too sick to stay on the job, experts say. [, 9/29/13]

CAP: Affordable Care Act Could Create Up To 4 Million Jobs. In a review and analysis of two independent studies concerning the economic and labor force impact of rising health care costs and projected health care costs savings related to the ACA, the Center for American Progress (CAP) concluded that health care reform would increase job creation in the United States by 250,000 to 400,000 positions per year over the next decade. [Center for American Progress, January 2010]


Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of morning, evening, and Sunday news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC from October 1 - the opening day for health care exchanges -- through October 31. We identified and reviewed all segments that included the following keywords: health care reform or health reform or ACA or Affordable Care Act or Obamacare or health insurance or individual mandate.

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, Good Morning America, This Morning, Today, Meet the Press, This Week, Fox News Sunday, and Face the Nation.

For shows that aired re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. We did not include teases to upcoming segments.

We defined segments that mentioned the role of health care reform in reducing economic insecurity as those that directly address the economic benefits of expanded health care.

We defined segments that mentioned GOP demands to delay and defund the health care law as those that specifically mentioned GOP efforts to tie defunding or delaying the law to ending the recent government shutdown or raising the debt ceiling.

We defined segments that mentioned glitches in the website as those that specifically mention issues with online signups to health care exchanges.

We defined segments that mentioned new benefits under health care reform as those which specifically mention expanded health coverage under the law, such as for preexisting conditions, mammograms, and the ability for children to stay on their parent's health insurance until age 26.

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