How Print And Broadcast Media Are Hiding Obamacare's Success In Controlling Costs

››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE & CRAIG HARRINGTON

After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.

Council Of Economic Advisers Reveals Slower Growth In Health Care Cost After Implementation Of The Affordable Care Act

Jason Furman: "ACA Is Contributing To The Recent Slow Growth In Health Care Prices." In a November 20 report, economist Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), highlighted several positive impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to Furman, the ACA has already helped reduce waste and overpayment in Medicare that is "contributing to the recent slow growth in health care prices and spending." Furman argues that reduced spending in Medicare is having an effect across the health care sector:

Accounting for "spillover effects" of the ACA's reductions in Medicare overpayments suggests that the ACA has reduced health care price inflation by 0.5 percent per year since 2010, which represents a substantial fraction of the recent slowdown in health care price growth. [WhiteHouse.gov, 11/20/13]

Council Of Economic Advisors: ACA Is Contributing To Lower Spending, May Be Raising Employment. Citing trends since the first implementation of the ACA in 2010, the Council of Economic Advisers concluded that the law has had positive impacts on the economy in general, as well as the health care sector in particular:

The evidence is clear that recent trends in health care spending and price growth reflect, at least in part, ongoing structural changes in the health care sector. The slowdown may be raising employment today, and, if continued, will substantially raise living standards in the years ahead. The evidence also suggests that the ACA is already contributing to lower spending and price growth and that these effects will grow in the years ahead, bringing lower cost, higher quality care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and to the health system as a whole. [Executive Office of the President, Council of Economic Advisers, November 2013]

CEA

[Source: Executive Office of the President, Council of Economic Advisers, "Trends in Health Care Cost Growth and the Role of the Affordable Care Act", November 2013]

Economists Agree: ACA Is Partly Responsible For Slowing Of Health Care Cost Growth

David Cutler: "Slowing Down Medical Costs" A Success Story Of Obamacare. In a Washington Post op-ed, Harvard economist and former Obama health care adviser David Cutler explained how the law is already succeeding at controlling the rise of health care costs, stating "[t]he Affordable Care Act is a key to the underlying change":

Even as coverage efforts are sputtering, success on the cost front is becoming more noticeable. Since 2010, the average rate of health-care cost increases has been less than half the average in the prior 40 years. The first wave of the cost slowdown emerged just after the recession and was attributed to the economic hangover. Three years later, the economy is growing, and costs show no sign of rising. Something deeper is at work. [The Washington Post, 11/8/13]

Paul Krugman: "The Biggest Complaint Against Obamacare Was Completely Wrong." Writing for his New York Times blog, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noted that while the CEA was careful not to claim that the ACA was solely responsible for health care cost control, "there [is] pretty good evidence that the ACA has played an important role in the cost slowdown." [The New York Times,11/21/13]

Jonathan Gruber: Low Health Care Cost Growth Rates "Quite Striking." In an interview with USA Today, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber said that the continued low growth rate of health care costs was "quite striking." On the CEA's claim that the ACA is responsible for this cost containment, Gruber stated "obviously [the White House] has a point they want to push, but I think they've got it right." [USA Today, 11/20/13]

Dean Baker: The ACA "Probably Does Deserve Some Of The Credit." In an op-ed published by Truthout.org, economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research noted that while the ACA is not the only factor contributing to lower costs, the health reform law "deserves some of the credit":

In short, by Washington standards Obama could easily take credit for the sharp slowdown in health care costs over the last five years. In reality, the ACA probably does deserve some of the credit, but regardless of the cause the slowdown is a really big deal. As a result, health care is much more affordable than would otherwise be the case. [Truthout.org, 11/25/13]

Print And Broadcast Media Largely Silent On Slowed Health Care Costs

Print Media Devote Only Five Stories To ACA's Role In Slowed Costs. Since the release of the CEA report on November 20, the five top newspapers in the United States - The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today - issued only five articles that mentioned the ACA's role in slowing the growth of health care costs. In the same time period, all print outlets combined issued 67 stories focusing on other aspects of the ACA rollout, including issues with the Healthcare.gov website and cancellations of individual policies. Only two outlets -- USA Today and The New York Times -- issued front page stories mentioning the CEA report.

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Broadcast Media Silent On CEA Report. Between November 20 and November 25, broadcast morning, evening, and Sunday shows provided no airtime to the CEA report, instead dedicating over 20 minutes to other aspects of the ACA rollout.

Methodology

Media Matters conducted Nexis and Factiva searches of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Los Angeles Times from November 21 (the day after the release of the CEA report) to November 25 using the following search terms: health care or health insurance or health reform or Affordable Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or Obama care.

We did not include online-only articles and letters to the editor.

Media Matters also reviewed evening news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC from November 20 through November 25. We reviewed morning and Sunday show programs from November 21 through November 25. The programs analyzed were: CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Today, CBS Evening News, Nightly News, World News, Face the Nation, and This Week. Meet the Press was not included because it did not air on November 24.

We defined articles and television segments that mention the role of ACA in slowing the growth of health care costs as those that directly mention the CEA report or comments from economists on the subject.

We defined articles and television segments that mention other aspects of the ACA rollout as those that mention any aspect of the ACA other than its role in slowing health care costs, including glitches in the Healthcare.gov website and individual policy cancellations.

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