Fox News downplayed the surge in health care enrollment numbers to stoke fears about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ignoring options to renew health plans, tax credits, and Medicaid enrollments while falsely claiming that 7 million enrollees were necessary for the law's success.
2013 was an epic year of right-wing media misinforming the public on the health care debate, particularly on women's health issues. Ignoring women's health experts, conservative media spent this year stoking fears about everything from birth control to maternity care, ignoring science, distorting state and federal regulations, and demonizing women's health care options in the process. These are the top six scare tactics from 2013.
Fox News attacked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney for accurately pointing out that the Affordable Care Act has led to millions in refunds for health insurance consumers, falsely claiming his statement was "Obamacare spin."
During a December 16 press briefing, Carney highlighted the refunds that health insurance consumers received because of a provision in the ACA that requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of premium funds on health care services. Companies that spend more than 20 percent of the premium dollars they take in on administrative costs like salaries and marketing must reimburse consumers for the lost value.
Fox & Friends co-hosts attacked Carney's statements on December 17 while an on-screen graphic labelled Carney's comments "Obamacare Spin." Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that Carney had "tried to sell the line" that millions have already seen savings. Doocy and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck went on to ridicule Carney's point:
DOOCY: Don't you think if there was a line of people, they would be right behind him? 'I saved 300 bucks, I saved 900 bucks, Our deductible got lower.'
HASSELBECK: Right, with signs.
DOOCY: Where are those people?
HASSELBECK: Maybe make a t-shirt. You know, they would be there.
HASSELBECK: Well, you know who is on to that? Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said no, those people that you're talking about, Jim Carney, they don't exist. It's actually getting worse.
But the savings that Carney mentioned do exist. According Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services data, "the 77.8 million consumers in the three markets covered by this 80/20 rule saved $3.4 billion" in up-front medical costs in 2012 and a further "$500 million in rebates, with 8.5 million enrollees due to receive an average rebate of approximately $100 per family." As CMS noted, counsumers could receive these rebates as checks in the mail, a direct reimbursement to the account used to pay for the plan, a deduction from the following year's premium, or if coverage was employer-sponsored, the employer could receive the rebate directly -- but would be required to use the funds "for your benefit." These savings were an increase from 2011:
Fox News again acted as the communications arm of the GOP, promoting a health care plan from Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) that could leave millions without coverage, do nothing to constrain the rise of health costs, and allow insurers to discriminate against patients with preexisting conditions.
On the December 16 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck interviewed Price, presenting his proposal, the Empowering Patients First Act, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that "could save this country trillions of dollars." While an on-air graphic described Price's plan as an "Obamacare alternative," Hasselbeck endorsed the proposal, saying, "[w]e have the support behind you on this in terms of what I've read so far."
But Fox's endorsement of Price's plan glossed over significant flaws with the bill, including the fact that Price's proposal has already failed twice in Congress and that plans like Price's have been tried, and failed, in the past. As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reported in 2009, The Empower Patients First Act "won't work" as its "version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly." According to Klein, Price's plan fails to include an individual mandate that would ensure the coverage pool would include both healthy and sick consumers and does nothing to prevent insurers from cherrypicking enrollees. As Klein noted, "this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California":
Price's bill has a couple of good ideas in it: Automatic enrollment, for one thing. And extending the employer tax deduction to individuals while capping it at "the average value of the national health exclusion for Employer Sponsored Insurance (family/singles) grown at inflation." This amounts to a huge tax increase, incidentally, although Price won't call it that.
But the plan won't work. In particular, its version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly. There's no individual mandate ensuring that the pool includes both healthy and sick individuals, no insurance market regulations stopping insurers from cherrypicking, and no risk adjustment rebalancing the scales when they do. In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California. Price isn't learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.
Price also endorsed selling insurance across state lines, a proposal that the New America Foundation found would increase premiums for many consumers while decreasing the level of coverage:
The New America report, entitled, "Across State Lines Explained: Why Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines is Not the Answer," found that under across state lines proposals premiums would increase for many people, health insurance benefits would become less generous, and more Americans would likely become uninsured over time.
"Selling health insurance across state lines would have a devastating impact on the health insurance marketplace and will not work for many Americans. This approach fails to introduce the incentives necessary to move insurers to a 21st Century business model that prioritizes care coordination and high value care over marketing and underwriting," said Len M. Nichols, Director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation and coauthor of the report.
"In fact, selling health insurance across state lines represents a step backwards not only for the health insurance marketplace, but also and more importantly for the American people who struggle everyday to secure quality, affordable coverage," Nichols continued.
Fox's decision to highlight Price's proposal is just another example of the network's long history of work as the communications arm of the GOP. The information provided on the plan, including figures pushed by Holtz-Eakin, who served as CBO director under President George W. Bush and policy advisor to then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, comes directly from Price's own talking points.
A senior attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right legal organization beloved by Fox News personalities, cheered India's Supreme Court for reinstating that country's ban on gay sex, calling the decision a model for the United States. ADF's support for the decision came a week after Fox host Bill O'Reilly praised the group on-air.
On December 11, India's Supreme Court restored a colonial-era law banning "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." The ruling overturned a 2009 ruling by the Delhi High Court finding the law unconstitutional. Under the 1861 statute, gay sex is punishable by a fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Benjamin Bull, executive director of ADF Global, gave a December 12 interview with the news service of the anti-gay hate group the American Family Association and applauded the decision. Bull contrasted the Indian ruling with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling overturning anti-sodomy laws:
"When given the same choice the Supreme Court of the United States had in Lawrence vs. Texas, the Indian Court did the right thing," says Bull, which was choose to "protect society at large rather than give in to a vocal minority of homosexual advocates."
The net effect is to protect the integrity of the family and by extension to protect traditional marriage.
In the Texas case, the state's high court struck down sodomy laws in a 6-3 decision that affected similar laws in other states.
The Texas case "laid the groundwork for the invalidation of traditional marriage by a number of courts subsequent to that," the attorney explains.
The Indian Supreme Court saw what had happened there "and was wise enough not to want to go down that road."
"America needs to take note that a country of 1.2 billion people has rejected the road towards same-sex marriage, and understood that these kinds of bad decisions in the long run will harm society," he adds.
The language of the Indian statute is identical to that found in many other current and former colonies of the British Empire, including Belize. In that country, ADF has supplied lawyers to defend the criminalization of gay sex.
Undisturbed by the group's rabidly anti-LGBT positions, Fox News has long maintained a cozy relationship with ADF. In an interview on his December 2 show, Bill O'Reilly effusively thanked ADF senior vice president Doug Napier for his group's efforts to combat the manufactured "War on Christmas." "God bless you, each and every one," O'Reilly gushed. Before O'Reilly's sycophantic interview, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson solicited donations for the group. Meanwhile, Fox reporters Shannon Bream, Megyn Kelly, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck have hosted ADF lawyers for one-sided interviews on the imagined dangers of anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people.
With the ADF giving its full-throated backing to the Indian court ruling and urging the U.S. to "take note" of the development, the organization has again demonstrated that its claims of "defending freedom" are little more than an Orwellian fraud. The question is whether Fox will continue to play along; and based on its track record, it seems the answer is yes.
Fox's Elisabeth Hasselbeck interviewed the owner of a Colorado bakery who was recently found to have violated the state's non-discrimination law by refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, asking if he believed his rights had been violated by efforts to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination.
During the December 10 edition of Fox & Friends, Hasselbeck invited Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, to discuss a recent ruling by a Colorado judge that found that Phillips had violated that state's law against discrimination when he refused to serve a same-sex couple. Phillips was joined by his attorney Nicolle Martin, who does volunteer work at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a group notorious for pushing for the criminalization of homosexuality internationally.
During the segment - which featured a graphic declaring "The Death Of Free Enterprise" - Hasselbeck asked Phillips why he believed he shouldn't have to abandon his "personal religious beliefs just to make a buck":
Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
From the November 26 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News misleadingly compared the Affordable Care Act's HealthCare.gov to private website HealthSherpa.com, despite the fact that the programmers previously explained to Fox this was not an "apples to apples comparison."
In response to the troubled rollout of the federal HealthCare.gov, three private programmers recently created HeatlhSherpa.com, a site which shows some health insurance plans available through the new health care law's exchanges, based on a person's zip code, income, and family size. The site does not allow users to purchase insurance, does not verify citizenship, and can only estimate tax breaks and subsidies that users might be eligible for, all functions of the HealthCare.gov website that make purchasing an insurance policy possible.
On the November 18 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck ignored many of these differences in the websites' functionality to claim HealthSherpa.com was a "working healthcare website" and implied it was a preferable alternative to the "failed HealthCare.gov website." Hasselbeck interviewed Michael Wasser, one of the founders of HealthSherpa.com, who explained some of the functional differences between his site and the federal health care website:
WASSER: I think the HealthCare.gov was focused on providing an interface for everybody, multiple languages, actually signing up for the health insurance plans directly on the website. There is a much larger feature set that theirs looked at. We were really focused on reviewing plan data and giving simple instructions on how to sign up for those plans directly through the insurer.
But this is not the first time one of HealthSherpa.com's programmers have explained this faulty comparison to Fox. On the November 13 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney also described HealthSherpa.com as "a working alternative website" to HealthCare.gov, but was quickly corrected by one of the website's programmers, George Kalogeropoulos:
KALOGEROPOULOS: It's not really a fair apples to apples comparison to compare HealthSherpa.com to HealthCare.gov, and that's because the government website talks to the IRS for your tax status, talks to Homeland Security for immigration status, and it talks to the states. All we do is show you prices. So we say where are you, and then show you what's available and what it costs. So it's a much more limited goal.
[T]he team at HealthCare.gov is extraordinarily competent technically, I'm sure they could have done what we did, what we did technically speaking is not that complicated.
In a November 11 article, CNN's Doug Gross further explained why "it's not fair to compare the creation of Health Sherpa to the rollout of the more complicated government ACA site":
Of course, it's not fair to compare the creation of Health Sherpa to the rollout of the more complicated government ACA site, which everyone from President Obama on down has acknowledged as a horribly botched affair.
For one, you can't actually use Heath Sherpa to sign up for coverage. The site states that it's for research purposes only, and that users must verify the premiums and subsidies they find there with state health care exchanges, insurance companies or on HealthCare.gov itself.
Conservative media figures are touting a far-right coalition's sensationalist claim that the U.S. military is rife with anti-Christian hostility, ignoring the lack of evidence to substantiate the charge and allowing anti-LGBT hate groups to drive coverage of the issue.
Restore Military Religious Freedom (RMRF) - a coalition of right-wing organizations including Liberty Counsel, the Heritage Foundation, and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)-designated hate groups the Family Research Council (FRC) and American Family Association (AFA) - is leading the charge with this bogus claim. In early November, RMRF released a video featuring interviews with current service members making sweeping statements about the alleged anti-Christian bias permeating the armed forces. The video listed a few examples of apparent attacks on religious liberty in the military, but those examples don't withstand scrutiny.
Hinting at the real motives behind the RMRF's effort, the video includes a soldier complaining about the new wave of "tolerance" sweeping the military - a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy. For years, the organizations behind RMRF have crusaded against open service by gay and lesbian soldiers, often using vitriolic language. Depicting the armed forces as anti-Christian has been central to the right's attack on the post-DADT military.
Anti-LGBT hate groups decided long ago that their ultimate solution must be the end of open service, but it was a solution in search of a problem. In its Christian persecution narrative, social conservatives have managed to manufacture that problem, despite that it consists of made-up anti-LGBT horror stories. Right-wing media are happy to take the hate groups' bait.
On the November 11 edition of Fox & Friends, FRC President Tony Perkins sat down with co-hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Brian Kilmeade to promote RMRF's campaign. While he didn't cite a single example of anti-Christian retaliation by the military, Perkins asserted that "all evidence would suggest" that the Obama administration is "on a search-and-destroy mission as it pertains to religious liberty." Hasselbeck didn't ask Perkins to back up his claim, but she did make sure viewers knew about RMRF's website:
Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck misleadingly hyped a specific security concern with the HealthCare.gov website without mentioning that the problem has been fixed.
On November 7, Hasselbeck interviewed South Carolina resident Tom Dougall, who explained that he had entered personal information into HealthCare.gov only for it to erroneously be sent to someone else who logged into the website. Hasselbeck used this incident to scare people into thinking it could happen to them, asking Dougall if anyone should "be logging onto a site that puts them at risk for security fraud, identity fraud."
But the Fox News segment never brought up the fact that the particular software issue that lead to the leak of Dougall's information has been fixed. CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified before the Senate on November 5 that "she became aware of the mistake on Monday and told the committee a 'software fix' had remedied the problem." McClatchy DC further reported:
A top Obama administration official on Tuesday tried to assure anxious senators that Americans' personal information was secure on the troubled HealthCare.gov website, which erroneously provided a South Carolina man's personal information to a man in North Carolina last week.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the problem was caused by a piece of software code that needed to be fixed. She said the fix was made, tested and the system is working properly.
Bataille said it was the only such incident reported to HHS, but she would not speculate about whether other, similar incidents have occurred.
Many problems have been made apparent since HealthCare.gov launched. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on November 6, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the government is working on fixes for a "couple of hundred" problems with the website. The problem highlighted by Hasselbeck was a serious issue, and she should have mentioned that this particular software problem has been resolved.
Fox News obscured Republicans' role in creating a Medicaid coverage gap in the administration's health care expansion to hype one woman's coverage loss as an example of Obama's broken promises.
Fox host Elisabeth Hasselbeck welcomed guest Tammy Fiechtner onto the November 1 Fox & Friends to discuss a letter she received from her insurer explaining that she's being automatically moved to a new insurance plan. Hasselbeck hyped "what's being called the Obamacare coverage gap," saying, despite the letter, that she "hasn't gotten a new plan. In fact, she doesn't have coverage at all." Fiechtner's comments shed more light on her predicament; the new plan she was being moved to had a similar premium, but a higher deductible. Fiechtner then explained that after exploring her options, she found that she would have qualified for Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)'s expansion of the program, but her Republican-led home state of Nebraska chose not to accept the Medicaid expansion (emphasis added):
FIECHTNER: When we went on the website, we found out that we didn't qualify for Obamacare because of how our business structure works. So, we were told that we had to go on Medicaid, which I don't understand why I have to be on Medicaid, but that's where they directed us to. Nebraska did not expand Medicaid, so there will be no help for people like ourselves. So we now are forced to buy a new plan all on own and face these expenses by ourselves.
As The New York Times reported, the ACA was "written to require all Americans to have health coverage" and "about 30 million uninsured Americans were to have become eligible for financial help" through subsidies for lower-income earners and the Medicaid expansion. According to the Times, the Supreme Court's 2012 decision to allow states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion left millions of low-income consumers without financial help in acquiring insurance:
But the Supreme Court's ruling on the health care law last year, while upholding it, allowed states to choose whether to expand Medicaid. Those that opted not to leave about eight million uninsured people who live in poverty ($19,530 for a family of three) without any assistance at all.
Hasselbeck's attempt to lay the blame for Fiechtner's situation on President Obama papers over Republicans' role in sabotaging access to affordable health insurance. As Politico reported in a November 1 story headlined "The Obamacare sabotage campaign," there is "a strong factual basis" for the charge that "calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step" has undermined key points of the law -- including the Medicaid expansion -- and has seriously damaged the overall rollout (emphasis added):
Fox News falsely claimed the Obama administration hid the fact that some individuals would experience changes to their insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when in fact Fox itself reported on the administration's announcement of the underlying "grandfathering" policy in 2010.
On October 28, NBC News reported that some Americans would change insurance policies over the next year as a result of the new health care law, and noted that this was unsurprising to the Obama administration. The law required that policies that were already in effect prior to March 23, 2010 to be "grandfathered" in, but not if those policies were significantly changed by the insurance company in a way that increases costs for consumers or reduces benefits between 2010 and 2014. Furthermore, language in the 2010 regulations acknowledged that "40 to 67 percent" of customers would likely not keep their policies during this period, based on normal turnover in the individual insurance market.
Fox & Friends latched on to this report on October 29 to claim the administration misled Americans, with co-host Steve Doocy falsely claiming that "back in 2010, they knew millions would lose it and they didn't say a word":
DOOCY: How many times did we hear the president promise ... that if you liked your health insurance, you would be able to keep it? Well now it has been revealed, in fact Jay Carney pretty much revealed yesterday, that there would be millions of Americans whose current policies do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act ... You know when the administration knew that millions would lose it? July of 2010. So you've seen the president and a number of Democrats, high ranking officials say, if you like your insurance, you can keep it -- back in 2010, they knew millions would lose it, and they didn't say a word.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck further claimed this information was "buried in Obamacare," asking earlier in the show "Where was that information up at the top? Where was that in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012? Where was that information?"
The information was on Fox News and in press announcements issued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Back in June 2010, Fox News' Molly Henneberg reported on Special Report that "the Obama administration's own estimates say that up to 80 percent of small businesses and 64 percent of large businesses may have to give up the plans they had today within three years," as some plans would not be grandfathered in. The report included video of Sebelius making the announcement about the administration's grandfathering regulations on June 14, 2010.
It was known before the ACA's enactment that policyholders in the individual health insurance market that many of these policies would be changed, despite the grandfathering. A letter from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to former Senator Evan Bayh, dated November 30, 2009, explained that "because of relatively high turnover in that market (as well as the incentives for many enrollees to purchase a new policy in order to obtain subsidies), CBO and [the Joint Committee On Taxation] estimate that relatively few nongroup policies would remain grandfathered by 2016."
Fox & Friends pushed the false claim that the government is attempting to create a unisex look that will "feminize" male Marines, ignoring a Marine Corps spokesperson who said that the planned uniform change will affect only female Marines and comes because a previous uniform manufacturer went out of business.
On October 23, the New York Post claimed that the Marine Corps is planning to change the covers for both male and female Marines to conform to a unisex look:
Thanks to a plan by President Obama to create a "unisex" look for the Corps, officials are on the verge of swapping out the Marines' iconic caps - known as "covers" -- with a new version that some have derided as so "girly" that they would make the French blush.
The thin new covers have a feminine line that some officials think would make them look just as good on female marines as on males -- in keeping with the Obama directive.
By October 24, a spokesperson for the Marines had debunked several claims hyped by the New York Post. Marine Captain Maureen Krebs told Business Insider that "The President in no way, shape, or form directed the Marine Corps to change our uniform cover." Captain Krebs explained that the Marines were searching for a new female cover because the company that manufactured the current covers no longer existed:
We're looking for a new cover for our female Marines for the primary reason that the former manufacturer went out of business. The Marine Corps has zero intention of changing the male cover.
A nearly identical statement appeared on the homepage of the Marine Corps website on October 25:
Despite this debunking of the New York Post story, on October 25 Fox & Friends pushed the Post's claim that the new covers are designed to replace the covers for both male and female Marines. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck said that the new cover "is supposed to be more gender-neutral, but some say it would make the Marines look too, quote, 'girly.' " Hasselbeck asked retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff, currently with Concerned Veterans for America, to comment. Duff also pushed the false claim that this is an attempt to make uniforms gender-neutral and is affecting male Marines, saying that "to demasculinize our Marines just seems to me a ludicrous requirement."
Fox News promoted a false attack on a federal program that expands access to free school meals by dismissing child hunger and claiming that the program will harm low-income families. But studies have shown the school meals program helps alleviate the high levels of hunger that exist among low-income children, improves their access to key nutrients, and increases academic performance.