CBS' Faulty Obamacare Reporting: Pregnancy Edition

CBS News highlighted the complaints of a man upset with Affordable Care Act provisions that require all insurance plans to provide maternity care coverage, a reliance on anecdotal journalism that omitted the important benefits this coverage could provide -- like ending gender discrimination in the insurance marketplace and improving the nation's sub-par infant mortality rate.  

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires all insurance plans, private and employer-based, to cover maternity and newborn care, one of the law's 10 categories of 'essential health benefits' that every policy must include.

CBS Evening News chose to present the impact of this mandatory maternity coverage as a superfluous benefit on its October 28 broadcast. Rather than interviewing a beneficiary of the coverage or a health expert who could discuss the motivation behind the requirement, CBS highlighted a male realtor upset that his plan included such benefits.  

Correspondent Dean Reynolds introduced Aaron Galvin as a realtor whose old insurance plan did not provide the minimum level of benefits required by the ACA, and as such, he had to sign up for a new plan that did. Reynolds reported that, “It's a new plan he didn't want, with some basic but required coverage, like maternity care, he doesn't need. Galvin and his wife don't plan on having more babies.”

CBS' reporting on the ACA has been marked by distortions and faulty research, and with this broadcast the network missed another opportunity to provide the facts behind mandating maternity care.

The ACA's maternity care requirement puts an end to insurance companies' systemic discrimination against women -- many companies charge women higher rates than men for the same plans and deny coverage or increase premiums for women who become pregnant, actions which the law now prohibits. Without the ACA's mandate, only 12 percent of individual market plans currently cover maternity care, according to the National Women's Law Center. This is a shockingly expensive loophole, as the cost of maternity care and delivery can reach $25,000.

CBS' exemplar omits these problems, and importantly, dismisses the reality that everyone benefits when women receive prenatal and reproductive care -- who can say they would have preferred their mother to not receive such care when they were in the womb? New York Times economic reporter Eduardo Porter noted that the requirements may reduce the United States' infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the developed world:

In an attempt to reduce infant mortality, starting in the second half of the 1980s Medicaid was expanded broadly to cover more pregnant women. According to one study, Medicaid covered almost half of births in 2010. And yet infant mortality rates improved little.

President Obama's health care law might stand a better chance. That expansion of Medicaid picked up women only once they became pregnant. And it dropped them a few weeks after giving birth, cutting them off from advice on family planning, breast-feeding and healthy behaviors for a new mother.

The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, should offer broader, consistent access to care for all women. It puts a lot of emphasis on prevention and fostering healthy behavior. It could help reduce unwanted pregnancies, which often lead to premature births, or even relieve the financial stress of going without adequate health care.

What's more, the ACA's 'essential health benefits' that all plans must cover includes some male-specific benefits, such as aneurysm preventive screening tests for men of a certain age

Earlier this week, CBS' This Morning featured the story of Dianne Barrette, a woman whose insurance plan does not meet the new ACA requirements while the plans being offered to her which do are more expensive. CBS omitted from the report was that in addition to being inadequate, the plan she currently receives doesn't cover hospitalizations, something that could have bankrupted Barrette.

The problem with these anecdotal reports, in which CBS focuses on a so-called victim of the ACA, is that they misleadingly carve out a sliver of the population as representative of the whole. And even then, the background and context of the stories presented are sacrificed.   

Fox News' use of this type of spin on the ACA recently backfired when Sean Hannity's anecdotal “victims” of the health care law turned out to be beneficiaries.

Original Photos via flickr user SEIU International