Fox's Varney and Napolitano agree that pre-existing conditions should not be covered after ruling overturning Affordable Care Act
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On the December 17 edition of Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy claimed that Democrats “won the House on [health care], and they didn’t even have a plan.”
In fact, there are eight possible health care plans focused on expanding coverage for Americans, six proposed by members of Congress and two by major think tanks. According to a Vox analysis of all eight plans, they fall into two categories: three plans that “would eliminate private insurance and cover all Americans through the government,” and five plans that would allow people to choose whether “to buy into government insurance (like Medicare or Medicaid) if they wanted to, or continue to buy private insurance.” The plans primarily differ in how they handle decisions like “which public health program to expand and how aggressively to extend the reach of government.”
The segment occurred in response to a ruling by a federal judge over the weekend declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Despite this ruling, the Affordable Care Act remains in place and unchanged for now. The ruling is expected to be appealed and tied up in courts, possibly reaching the Supreme Court.
Embarrassingly, Fox News devoted the most coverage to the topic, with just under 14 minutes total in two months
The open-enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov will end in less than two weeks on December 15, but if you rely on TV news you may not even know that the enrollment period began November 1. The three major cable news networks and the three broadcast news networks together have given the open-enrollment period embarrassingly scant coverage in the last two months -- a meager 16 1/2 minutes in total from October 3 to December 3, according to a Media Matters review.
That Fox provided the most coverage of the enrollment period is troubling on its own; the network has a history of providing misleading and outright false coverage of the ACA as a part of a larger effort by right-wing media to discredit the health care law. Recently, the network allowed Republican politicians to lie about their positions on insurance coverage protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, misled in its coverage of President Donald Trump’s administration ending subsidies that make health care plans on the exchanges affordable, and aired misleading charts about enrollment numbers. Not to mention the network’s record of airing misleading human interest stories, false narratives, and unending refrains that the ACA is “failing.”
In addition to the two segments featuring longer discussions of the ACA, Fox also ran three news briefs on November 1 announcing the open-enrollment period. CBS ran two news briefs announcing the enrollment period that same day, which amounted to roughly one minute of airtime.
No other network aired a segment about the enrollment period. CNN and MSNBC only mentioned the enrollment period in passing for less than one minute each, while ABC and NBC did not mention it at all. No cable news or broadcast news network aired an advance announcement of the enrollment period; all coverage in the 29 days before the November 1 enrollment start date was mere passing mentions amounting to about one and a half minutes.
In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll, only 24 percent of non-group enrollees ages 18-64 (those who are uninsured or who purchase their own individual insurance) knew about the December 15 deadline for open enrollment. The percentage of non-group enrollees who did not know about the deadline at all increased from 53 percent in October 2017 to 61 percent last month.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has shortened the open-enrollment period by half, from 12 weeks to six. Previously, enrollment was open from November 1 to January 31, but bowing to pressure from health insurers, Trump set a cutoff of December 15.
This smaller sign-up window is not the only assault on enrollment numbers. The Trump administration has also scheduled 60 hours of downtime for the HealthCare.gov website for scheduled maintenance every Sunday from midnight to noon during the enrolment period (except for the last Sunday), has reduced funding for enrollment groups that work to sign up Americans in states that don’t run their own exchanges by as much as 92 percent, and has slashed funding for its advertising by 90 percent.
As a result of these Trump administration policies, advocates predicted a decline in enrollment in the health care exchanges. Sign-ups for 2018 were down to 11.8 million from 12.2 million the year before, and sign-ups for this enrollment period are on track to be even lower.
Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for mentions of “enrollment” within close proximity of “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “health care,” “healthcare,” “Obama care,” or “Obamacare” from October 3 (the earliest transcripts were still available) to December 3, 2018, on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from 4 a.m. through midnight and on ABC’s, CBS’, and NBC’s early morning shows, morning shows, evening shows, and Sunday morning political talk shows.
We timed and coded any passing mention, teaser, news brief, or news segment mentioning or discussing the open-enrollment period. For passing mentions, we only timed the relevant speech. For teasers and segments, we timed them in their entirety.
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Fox Business anchor Dagen McDowell urged Republicans to scare Florida’s seniors about proposed Medicare for All legislation and claim that it would result in “Medicare for none” ahead of next week’s midterm elections. In fact, the legislation in question would improve on Medicare’s single-payer health insurance, reduce the cost of health care, and extend it to all Americans.
During a November 1 discussion on Fox News’ Outnumbered about President Donald Trump’s attacks on Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mayor Andrew Gillum, McDowell argued that Republicans should tell Florida’s seniors that “that in terms of Medicare for All, if Andrew Gillum is backing what Bernie Sanders wants to do, it's Medicare for none":
DAGEN MCDOWELL (CO-HOST): This is getting in the weeds, and if you want to talk about health care, what Republicans ought to be saying about single payer -- the Democrats like calling it Medicare for All -- that in terms of Medicare for All, if Andrew Gillum is backing what Bernie Sanders wants to do, it's Medicare for none. Because his bill gets rid of Medicare. Where do seniors live? Florida. They want to get rid of your Medicare. That's all the Republicans need to say. They want to eliminate private competition with these bills that are in Washington. That's all they need to say. The seniors in Florida would be screaming at the top of their lungs, and the Republicans are not getting that message out.
Despite both McDowell and Trump saying Medicare for All is “Medicare for none,” that’s simply not true. Experts have explained that Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would offer better health care for seniors than the current system because it covers more benefits while reducing the amount beneficiaries have to pay for care. The Urban Institute’s Linda Blumberg told PolitiFact that Medicare for All “would actually give an expanded version of traditional Medicare to everyone, with broader coverage -- including items such as dental and vision care -- while eliminating virtually all out of pocket costs.” RAND Corporation health policy analyst Christine Eibner also explained to PolitiFact that seniors could benefit by everyone being covered by Medicare for All because doctors are currently incentivized to choose non-Medicare patients, since private insurance pays more.
Health policy journalist Sarah Kliff explained at Vox that Sanders’ Medicare for All plan “is more generous than the current Medicare program” because it “does not subject consumers to any out-of-pocket spending on health aside from prescriptions drugs.” Kliff also noted that Sanders’ Medicare for All “is more generous than the plans Americans currently receive at work too.”
Health policy experts Katie Keith and Timothy Jost also went into detail about the plan’s benefits and explained that, while Medicare for All would forbid private insurance that offers the same benefits, it permits private insurance to cover benefits not covered by Medicare for All. So if Americans felt that they needed additional health insurance, they could still purchase it from private insurers.
McSally describes herself as “passionate” about protecting people with pre-existing conditions, despite her very recent voting record
Fox anchor Bill Hemmer invited Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who is running for Senate, on America’s Newsroom and allowed her to lie about her stance on insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions without pushing back on her claims. McSally told Hemmer that accusations by her opponent Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) that she is lying about her record on health care are simply “fear tactics” and “flat-out lie[s],” arguing that she is “passionate to protect people with pre-existing conditions” and that she voted in favor of these protections.
However, McSally’s voting record tells a different story. In 2015, she voted for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation that forces insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. In 2017, she also voted for her party’s repeal and replace bill which would have “allowed states to eliminate other regulations [of ACA] ― including the all-important rule prohibiting insurers from charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions.” McSally reportedly stood up in a GOP conference meeting and declared, “Let’s get this fucking thing done.”
This isn’t the first time Fox News has acted as a mouthpiece for the GOP and its candidates. In the weeks leading up to the midterm elections, Fox has given a platform for numerous Republicans to lie about their stances on pre-existing conditions.
From the October 31 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
BILL HEMMER (CO-ANCHOR): [Sinema] is hitting you on health care. This is part of what she’s saying: “Martha McSally continues to lie on her record of health care. Here’s the truth: I voted to protect coverage for the 2.8 million Arizonans with pre-existing conditions. Martha voted to take it away.” That's from your opponent. Moments ago, the president tweeted this: “Republicans,” he says, “will protect people with pre-existing conditions far better than the Dems.” Go ahead and take on your challenger -- what’s she talking about?
MCSALLY: Well, she’s using fear tactics like we are seeing all over the country. It's a flat-out lie. I am passionate to protect people with pre-existing conditions and I voted to protect people with pre-existing conditions. The reality is right now under Obamacare, there are people in Arizona, I meet them every single day, who don't have health insurance with pre-existing conditions because Obamacare has failed. The costs are too high, there’s only one choice in 14 or 15 counties, deductibles and premiums, the networks are too small. So, it’s not working. We need to go to a different approach, where there’s more options, there’s more flexibility at the state level that broadens coverage, brings down costs so people get the insurance that they need while protecting people with pre-existing conditions. These are just -- they have nothing else to run on, so they’re using fear.
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Some Republicans have reversed course to claim they support pre-existing conditions coverage, but have voted to repeal the whole ACA without calling for the exception
During the October 26 edition of CNN’s New Day, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin suggested that Republicans “have an argument” when they say “we want to scrap the parts” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but save other provisions like protections for those with pre-existing conditions. In reality, there is ample evidence that Republicans are happily targeting pre-existing conditions coverage.
The vast majority of congressional Republicans have spent years attempting to repeal the ACA and offering replacements that would have substantially weakened or eliminated protections barring insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has publicly stated his intention to revisit a full repeal should Republicans do well in the midterm elections. Moreover, many Republicans remain publicly supportive of a lawsuit brought by “Republican attorneys general representing 20 states” that could end pre-existing conditions coverage. The president, McConnell, and other Republican officials and candidates all support the lawsuit. Faced with overwhelming public support for the ACA’s pre-existing conditions coverage, Republicans have started lying about their party’s very recent history of favoring restricted access for those with pre-existing conditions.
On New Day, Martin suggested Republicans could argue that the narrative that they're against protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is not “fair” because Republicans in Congress had to vote against the Affordable Care Act as a whole entity, even if they supported some components of the law. However, these Republicans never expressed support for protections for people with pre-existing conditions until the midterm elections began to approach and haven't explained how they plan to repeal the ACA while protecting that provision. In reality, mandatory coverage for people with pre-existing conditions only became possible because of the ACA’s individual mandate, which conservatives rallied against for years. The individual mandate forced healthy people to purchase insurance, helping to offset costs of covering those with pre-existing conditions. Conservatives’ efforts to repeal the ACA as a whole cannot be separated from attacks on pre-existing conditions. Republicans did pitch one new bill as a way to protect coverage, but it was quickly revealed to be “a fraud.”
During his appearance on CNN, Martin gave undue benefit of the doubt to GOP claims by ignoring obvious evidence of Republicans’ antipathy toward pre-existing conditions coverage and suggesting that they might want to protect it after all:
JONATHAN MARTIN (THE NEW YORK TIMES): The challenge they have is that they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a key part of which includes those protections. Now, the Republicans will say, “Look, we want to scrap the parts of the ACA that we don't like, we will save those.” And so they have an argument there. But obviously, politics is not always fair in terms of when you sort of vote to repeal a large bill and there’s popular items therein, that isn't always specified.
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In a year when American voters list health care as one of their top concerns in the upcoming midterm elections, broadcast evening news shows have failed to air a single substantive segment about the issue. They have, however, provided breathless coverage of the newest British royal couple, continuous updates on lottery jackpots, and even segments on rapper Kanye West’s bizarre visit to the Oval Office.
Last week, Media Matters investigated coverage of health care policy and GOP-led efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and failed to find a single substantive segment on the issue. Instead, the broadcast evening news shows this year have aired 45 segments on the relationship of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a total of over one hour and 18 minutes, and that does not include special coverage of their wedding. The latest, record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot was covered in 13 segments for about 10 minutes in total. Each network also aired a segment on Kanye’s visit with President Donald Trump, which totaled six minutes. Substantive coverage of health care policy still stands at zero.
The night after our study released, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker filed a two-minutes-long news package on Nightly News that focused on the midterm elections as framed through the importance voters placed on health care. Welker’s piece did not focus on health care policy or GOP attacks on the ACA.
But her piece did give a pass to Republicans now campaigning on protections for pre-existing conditions that they not only vowed to undo but also worked to eliminate. The piece quoted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as an example of Republicans who once “railed against all aspects of Obamacare” and now want to keep “key portions like coverage for pre-existing conditions.” But Cruz has said, as recently as June, that he believes the Justice Department’s position that pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional is “reasonable” and has voiced his support of the Texas-led lawsuit against the ACA that challenges the legality of the entire law. Let’s not forget that Cruz once spoke for over 21 hours straight on the Senate floor against the ACA, and that Republicans in the House voted 54 times to repeal the ACA in the first few years after its passage.
As we approach Election Day, broadcast news shows continue to underserve their audiences of millions by failing to substantively cover this critical issue.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 23, 2018.
We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, pre-existing conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.
For other topics covered between January 1 and October 23, 2018, we searched for mentions of: “Prince Harry,” “Meghan Markle,” or the term “royal” within close proximity to “Harry,” “Meghan,” “couple,” “wedding,” or “baby” for segments on the royal couple; “Mega Millions” or “Powerball” for segments on the lotteries; and “Kanye” for segments on Kanye’s visit to the Oval Office. As with health care policy, we determined segments by whether the aforementioned terms were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts and did not include passing mentions of the aforementioned topics in the results.
In the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections, as polls show strong support among Democratic and Republican voters for the Affordable Care Act provision that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, right-wing media seem to have muted their rhetoric about the provision. Conservative media, especially Fox News, are now helping Republicans whitewash the Republican Party's sordid record of attacks against the provision. But they have their own history of smearing the pre-existing condition provision of the law, including calling it a “luxury” and “welfare.”
The nightly news shows haven’t aired a single substantive segment about health care policy this year
The flagship evening news shows on the three broadcast networks have not aired a single substantive segment on health care policy in 2018. They have ignored Republican efforts to sabotage health care policy despite voters consistently calling health care a top issue as the midterm elections approach.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is under assault, but you wouldn’t know that if you turned into ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News. The 2018 midterms are less than three weeks away, and health care has been a top issue cited in polls over and over again this year. But so far, the flagship broadcast evening news shows -- which attract millions of viewers each night -- have failed to air even one substantive segment on the GOP-led attacks on the ACA.
A key provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2017, undermined a major component of the ACA by reducing the penalty for not having health insurance to zero. Since then, Republicans and the Trump administration have made repeated efforts to sabotage health care policy in 2018. On February 26, a coalition of 20 states -- led by Republican attorneys general Ken Paxton of Texas and Brad Schimel of Wisconsin -- filed suit against the federal government claiming that the ACA was now unconstitutional since the new tax law had effectively removed the penalty for not having any insurance.
On June 7, the Trump administration declined to continue defending the ACA against the lawsuit. In a brief from the Justice Department, the administration argued that the elimination of the tax penalty for non-coverage meant that the prior Supreme Court ruling that upheld the individual mandate no longer applied. The Justice Department not only claimed that the section of the ACA regarding the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but went further by arguing that the provision protecting Americans with preexisting conditions is also unconstitutional.
Most recently, the administration has been pushing short-term, limited duration plans and “association health plans” designed to offer lower-priced coverage by skirting the protections afforded by the ACA, such as requiring insurers to cover those with preexisting conditions. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that while such plans are about one-fifth of the cost of some of the least expensive ACA-subsidized plans, they may come with greater out-of-pocket costs, yearly or lifetime coverage limits, no maternity coverage, and limited prescription drug or mental health coverage (if they had any such coverage at all).
But little of this critical information made it to viewers of the broadcast evening news shows despite health care being such an important issue for voters this election cycle. Ignoring this subject does a disservice to the American public.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 18, 2018.
We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, preexisting conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.