Fox Acts As GOP Communications Arm In Promotion Of Conservative ACA “Alternative”

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