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  • Media keep calling the GOP's corporate tax bill a "win" for Trump

    The extraordinarily unpopular bill is built on lies and ignores what we know about economics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump and his Republican congressional allies are enjoying a round of praise from media commentators for finally getting a legislative “win” on the board as their tax bill closes in on passage before the end of the year. The budget-busting corporate giveaway will enrich the superwealthy and do little for Americans who have to work for a living.

    Republicans finally unveiled the finished version of their tax legislation last Friday evening, and -- despite the public having just days to absorb its 1,097 pages -- both chambers of Congress plan to vote on the bill before the end of the week. If everything goes according to plan, the president will sign the bill into law just in time for members to head home for the holidays.

    After a year plagued by self-destructive outbursts, failed policy changes, unprecedented legal troubles, embarrassing scandals, humiliating legislative defeats, and nationwide political upheaval, many in the press are framing the GOP tax proposal as a crucial “win” for Trump and his party.

    On the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, co-host Poppy Harlow wondered how anyone could argue the past year “hasn’t been a win for the president on some big fronts,” given a handful of recent accomplishments, including the new tax bill. Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns agreed with Harlow’s assessment while noting that such favorable framing fits “the way that the White House has been messaging their own achievements”:

    During an earlier segment on CNN’s New Day, guest A.B. Stoddard suggested that the Republican tax bill, which the Economic Policy Institute has labeled “a scam,” could count as “a great boon for Republicans” and “a win on the board,” if the bill actually fulfilled its over the top promises. (It won’t.) Commentary framing the expected party-line vote as a major victory for the GOP also cropped up in The Associated Press, Politico, The Hill, and The New York Times. Reporters have seemingly gone out of their way to pat Republicans on the back for endorsing legislation so historically unpopular it registers significantly less support than some previous tax hikes:


    FiveThirtyEight.com

    In a December 15 video, Eric Schoenberg of the activist group Patriotic Millionaires explained how the GOP tax bill overwhelming favors wealthy people like him (and the Trump family) while doing little for lower- and middle-class people. Trump and the Republicans continue falsely claiming that the bill will spur business development, boost wages, and stoke renewed economic growth, but the message is such a fantasy even Fox News had to admit there was nothing to it. Previous studies from the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution have demonstrated little relationship between tax cuts for the wealthy and invigorated economic activity, which Trump and the GOP have promised will result from this tax bill.

    The bill permanently cuts taxes for corporations while giving only modest, temporary relief for working people. It loosens tax structures affecting the wealthiest Americans while threatening funds for Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other initiatives that guarantee basic economic security to low-income families. The bill promises to add another $1.5 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade despite years of hysteria about Obama-era revenue shortfalls. The bill also senselessly repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which will likely result in millions of Americans dropping out of the insurance market.

    Rather than praising the Republican Party for ending a remarkably unproductive year by managing to cobble together a tax giveaway to the super rich, journalists should report on what is actually in the bill. Trump and the GOP have definitely enjoyed some "wins" this year, but reporters need to point out that the Republican Party's successes have often resulted in pain and suffering for millions of Americans.

  • Fox & Friends revives debunked myths on the deficit, health care, and middle-class tax increases to push Senate GOP tax plan

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In an attempt to defend the Republican tax bill, Fox & Friends hosts purported to debunk “myths” about the proposal, but actually just pushed a number of falsehoods and misleading statements themselves. For the segment, they hosted Rosemary Becchi, a tax attorney and lobbyist who previously worked as the Republican tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee.

    Claimed the plan won’t add $1 trillion to the deficit just one day after congressional committee found that it would. Becchi asserted that it was “completely false” that the bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit. Co-host Brian Kilmeade cited so-called “dynamic scoring” to allege that the bill could “actually reduce the deficit.” But, according to The New York Times, an estimate from Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) found that “the legislation would add $1 trillion to federal budget deficits over a decade, even after accounting for economic growth” through dynamic scoring.

    Falsely claimed the plan won’t hike taxes on middle-income people. Becchi also insisted that the tax bill would cut taxes “at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.” But, according to The Washington Post, the JCT estimated that the bill would “give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade.” Additionally, The New York Times found that “two-thirds of middle-class households would get a tax increase in 2027, and none — zero percent — would get a tax cut.”

    Whitewashed the harm the plan will do to Americans’ health care. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked Becchi whether a potential “health care tax hike” under the proposed law will happen, which Becchi dismissed. Becchi correctly noted that the proposal includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, which would not lead to a tax hike. But Becchi and the hosts did not explain that as a result of repealing the mandate, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated, 13 million more people would lose their insurance and premiums would rise by about 10 percent in the ACA’s individual market.

    Admitted that tax cuts will help the rich the most while claiming to be “debunking” the “myth” that tax cuts help the rich most. When asked about the impact the bill would have on the wealthiest Americans, Becchi noted that “these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers,” but suggested that that was just because “most wealthy Americans pay the most taxes in this country.” This is a drastic understatement; based on the initial framework of the Republican tax bills, the Tax Policy Center found that “about 80 percent of the total benefit would accrue to taxpayers in the top 1 percent, whose after-tax income would increase 8.7 percent.”

    From the December 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): First off, we hear about the deficit, and we hear that it’s going to add $1 trillion dollars to the deficit.

    ROSEMARY BECCHI: And that's just completely false. There’s so much in this bill that will generate an economic growth. And that economic growth will put us on a path to fiscal responsibility. So, there’s a lot to be in this bill for everybody.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): OK, to chew on, and that's why we are looking at it, we just heard from [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [(D-CA)]. She called it a “scam.” What about the fact that so many Democrats, Rosemary, have said it's going to be a tax hike on the middle class?

    BECCHI: And that's just not true. This bill will give benefits to both the low-, middle-, and high-income earners. It provides tax cuts straight across the board.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): She also said health care tax hike. Is that going to happen?

    BECCHI: No. Not at all. What the bill includes is the repeal of the [individual] mandate. And if you recall, the mandate is simply a penalty for not purchasing health care. All it does is eliminate that penalty. That's not a tax.

    EARHARDT: So it saves people money if they don't want to do it.

    BECCHI: Exactly, exactly.

    KILMEADE: Right. And disproportionately it hurts people who make $50,000 and less, because they’re the ones who have to make the decision, do I have to pay the fine on the mandate for health care, or I do actually buy a plan --

    BECCHI: Correct.

    KILMEADE: -- which, sadly, the Obamacare plans are not what they promised -- the high premiums, high deductibles. Therefore, these people are in a conundrum. This would help them.

    BECCHI: That's absolutely correct.

    KILMEADE: Moving on to what I said before about the deficit. It would add $1 trillion  to the deficit, if you don't put a --  factor in the fact that the economy is supposed to grow, bringing in additional revenue called dynamic scoring. If you feel as though the economy is going to stay the same, it would blow a hole. But if you’re betting that it’s going to grow, it would actually reduce the deficit.

    BECCHI: Right, that’s right. This bill will put more money into the pockets of both Americans, as well as businesses. And people will reinvest that money. And as a result of that reinvestment, we will have economic growth. And economic growth will generate more taxes.

    EARHARDT: Now what about the wealthy? Because when the president was running he said I'm going to decrease taxes for everybody. He said in a press conference yesterday or the day before that he -- he said I'm going to pay the penalty. I'm going to pay more in taxes because I'm one of the wealthy.

    BECCHI: Right. Most Americans, most wealthy Americans, pay the most taxes in this country.

    EARHARDT: That's the way it is now, right?

    BECCHI: Exactly. That's the way it is. So, as a result, these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers. And that's just the reality. But, what this tax bill does, it cuts at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.

  • Study: Local TV news omits key details of Senate GOP's tax bill

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters analysis found that key provisions of the tax bill put forth by Senate Republicans were all but omitted from local media coverage of the plan in Portland, ME; Phoenix, AZ; Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; and Nashville, TN. Additionally, while local media widely reported that the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, they neglected to note that doing so would raise premiums and increase the number of uninsured people. Stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative media conglomerate friendly to the Trump administration, also were worse than other stations in reporting on these important aspects of the bill.

  • Trump mirrors right-wing media plea to scuttle ACA's individual mandate in GOP tax plan

    Ending the policy would cause premiums to increase and millions to lose insurance

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A tweet from President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to include a provision in the latest so-called "tax reform" proposal to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, a policy that stipulates that all citizens must have health insurance or pay a small tax penalty. This proposal has been floating around right-wing media recently, despite the disastrous consequences it would have.

    In an apparent reference to the ACA’s individual mandate, Trump tweeted a message on November 13 urging lawmakers to consider “ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further” as part of the impending Republican plan to rewrite the tax code.

    Some in right-wing media have made the same suggestion in recent weeks. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote in a November 12 piece that “the best move for tax and health-care reform is to include the mandate repeal.” Earlier, on November 6, Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt called on Republicans to “kill off the mandate and advance tax reform at the same time.” Fox contributor Marc Siegel wrote in a November 9 op-ed, “It is time to kick the mandate leg off the stool and let it collapse under the weight of its over-bloated, one-size-fits-all insurance policies.” And Jay Caruso of the Dallas Morning News tweeted shortly before Trump this morning, “Call your Senators and urge them to repeal the Obamacare mandate tax.”

    These calls to dismantle the individual mandate would have disastrous consequences. In a November 8 analysis, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that repealing the individual mandate in 2019 would decrease the number of people with health insurance “by 4 million in 2019 and 13 million in 2027.” Additionally, the report also estimated that for those not covered through their employers, “average premiums … would increase by about 10 percent in most years of the decade … relative to CBO’s baseline projections.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also found that the resulting premium increases “could affect about 7 million mostly middle-income people who purchase ACA-compliant individual market coverage but have incomes too high to qualify for subsidies.”

    In his tweet, Trump suggested that dismantling the individual mandate -- and thereby throwing a wrench into the insurance market while simultaneously freeing up funds to use for tax cuts -- would lower taxes for the top tax bracket and benefit the middle class, though it’s unclear how it would do the latter. The plans Trump and Republican lawmakers have proposed are filled to brim with goodies for the wealthiest at the expense of middle-class workers. Repealing the individual mandate would only make the consequences even more dire for middle-class families.

    As Talking Points Memo’s Alice Ollstein wrote, calls to get rid of the individual mandate are “going over like a lead balloon on Capitol Hill” and including a provision to repeal it “could put the entire bill in jeopardy.” That’s because politicians -- even Republicans -- realize that it would be a disaster for the health insurance markets and their political careers.

  • Study: Maine media omit key benefits of potential Medicaid expansion

    Stations owned by Sinclair also proved reluctant to cover the proposal at all

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters analysis found that, from February 21 to October 21, local TV news stations in Portland, ME, critically downplayed and even omitted information about the benefits of expanding Medicaid in the state through an upcoming ballot measure. Additionally, the study found that stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group were much less likely than other stations to report on the proposal at all.

  • Right-wing media falsely call crucial ACA subsidies "bailouts" to defend Trump's decision to halt them

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    President Donald Trump and right-wing media have repeatedly referred to cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments -- a key subsidy under the Affordable Care Act that helps working class people afford insurance -- as a “bailout” for the insurance industry to defend Trump’s decision to cease making the payments. Fact-checkers have refuted the characterization of these payments as “bailouts,” and experts note that failure to make these payments could wreck havoc on the insurance industry and would end up costing the federal government billions.

  • Reported Facebook fact-checking partner The Weekly Standard pushes Sarah Palin’s death panel lie

    Facebook fact-checker PolitiFact had designated the death panel myth 2009’s “lie of the year”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    The Weekly Standard published a column pushing the debunked lie that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes “death panels” just days after a report surfaced that Facebook plans to enlist the conservative outlet as a fact-checker to fight fake news.

    On October 7, Quartz reported that Facebook was in talks with The Weekly Standard to become a fact-checker, helping to oversee pieces shared on the social media platform that have been flagged as possible fake news. If a deal is finalized, The Weekly Standard would join fact-checkers such as Snopes and PolitiFact, which joined when Facebook announced the initiative last December.

    For its upcoming October 23 magazine issue, The Weekly Standard published a piece by frequent contributor Wesley J. Smith of the right-wing Discovery Institute headlined “Death Panels: Sarah Palin Was Right.” The headline refers to a lie fabricated in 2009 by serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey and amplified by former Republoican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) system set up by the ACA would determine whether seniors and people with disabilities were worthy of care. The false claim was so notorious that PolitiFact, which is a partner on Facebook’s fake news initiative, deemed it its 2009 “Lie of the Year.” The Standard column claims without proof that the IPAB “could, one day, be weaponized to implement invidious medical discrimination mandates—e.g., health-care rationing.” The column also cites a 2012 New York Times op-ed from Steve Rattner, a former adviser to former President Barack Obama, as evidence that the IPAB could demand medical rationing. But in the actual op-ed, Rattner simply discussed forms of health care rationing he would prefer and laments that the ACA “regrettably includes severe restrictions” on rationing.

    This is not the first time the Standard and its writers have pushed misinformation. In February, the outlet appeared to fall victim to smears from fake news purveyors when it falsely accused a former National Security Council staffer of being a political Obama appointee. The Standard promoted the lie that Healthcare.gov stripped insurance customers of their right to privacy and mischaracterized comments made by proponents of health care reform. Its editor-in-chief, Stephen Hayes, wrote a book falsely claiming that Al Qaeda collaborated with Saddam Hussein, and its founder, William Kristol, was a major booster of the Iraq War and claimed that “we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq.” Kristol also played a major role in Palin’s selection as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. The magazine has also previously attacked PolitiFact's credibility; one of its writers attacked Facebook over its fact-checking program, labeling the fact-checkers as “a panel of censors” and complaining that they “cannot be trusted to be fair to conservatives.”

    Facebook’s attempt to bring in conservatives to help fight fake news is not objectionable in and of itself; indeed, researchers and experts have called on conservatives to help fight fake news, and the social media giant could certainly use help. But it is imperative that those partners be good-faith actors that do not push misinformation themselves. That The Weekly Standard would publish such a misleading column about something as thoroughly discredited as death panels is not an encouraging sign that it will help improve the accuracy of information shared on Facebook.

  • Five guidelines for reporting on Trump's sabotage of health care subsidies

    News media face a challenge as Trump rescinds subsidies for millions of working-class Americans

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump announced on October 12 that he would be ending cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers, which have been a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that have helped ensure low-income Americans can afford health insurance. During the fight over the ACA this summer, media outlets made a litany of mistakes in their health care coverage. Given the dire consequences of this latest move to dismantle the ACA, it’s increasingly important that coverage avoids a few key pitfalls.

    Do: Call this what it is -- part of a long-term effort to sabotage the health care system

    Ending cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments is the latest move in the Republican-led effort to sabotage the ACA, and media must say so. Republican efforts to take down the ACA are nothing new, but they have been regalvanized under Trump’s presidency. A lot of the destruction Trump and his cronies have caused has been in the shadows, and that strategy has fooled the media into neglecting to mention the role of sabotage whenever anything goes wrong in the health care market.

    The ACA was doing fine before Trump got his hands on it. Despite the near constant complaints from right-wing media figures of a “death spiral,” analyses found that the Obamacare markets were “stabilizing.” Even the Trump administration’s own Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a report finding stable markets in 2016.

    This sabotage really shouldn’t be surprising. Trump said he would “let ObamaCare implode,” if congressional efforts to repeal and replace the ACA failed. As Topher Spiro of the Center for American Progress wrote, “It’s now impossible for Republicans to blame Obamacare for any premium increases or insurer exits” given all the attempts to ruin the law.

    Do: Elevate experts who know what they’re talking about

    Health care is complex. There’s no need for media to muddle that complexity with falsehoods from talking heads spouting partisan lies or useless punditry. Fox News, predictably, often relies on its “Medical A-Team” to make dubious claims and lie about health care. CNN similarly has problematicexperts” whom the network often leans on for health care analysis, including Stephen Moore, who has somehow built a career on pushing shoddy predictions, misinformation, and misleading claims. Cable news also too often gives valuable time to pundits who focus on "optics" or politics, rather than policy.

    When real experts have appeared on cable news, however, these doctors, health care beat reporters, and current and former health care officials have effectively debunked misinformation and accurately explained the debate at hand. These are the kind of people media should be hosting. Tell Stephen Moore to take the day off.

    Do: Let people know how Trump’s sabotage will impact them

    Ending CSR payments is going to rattle the markets and increase costs for both the country and millions of Americans. Here are just a few reasons why:

    • HealthAffairs.org’s Timothy Jost noted that without CSR payments, “some insurers might well decide that the government is an unreliable partner and give up on the exchanges for 2018.”

    • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums for some plans “would, on average, rise by about 20 percent in 2018 relative to the amount in CBO’s March 2016 baseline and rise slightly more in later years.”

    • And the Kaiser Family Foundation found that ending these payments “would result in a net increase in federal costs of $2.3 billion” next year compared to current projections.

    These facts should be front and center in every report and interview about Trump’s newest move. In the past, local newspapers, cable morning shows, Sunday political shows, prime-time cable news, broadcast news, and national newspapers have omitted key consequences of health care proposals from their reporting. Media should learn from past mistakes and bring attention to these consequences.

    Don’t: Fall for the conservative “bailout” spin

    Conservatives have repeatedly tried to frame CSRs as “bailouts” to the insurance industry. The problem with that is they’re wrong.

    Trump used the “bailout” spin in July:

    Fox & Friends did this morning:

    And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) did the same thing on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom today:

    As The Washington Post Fact Checker explained, “A bailout means a company is being propped up with government money after making bad decisions. That’s not the case here.” Additionally, according to the Commonwealth Fund, the payments are reimbursements the federal government gives to insurers for providing subsidies that include “lower copayments and deductibles for people in households earning between 100 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level.”

    Republicans want people to think these payments are bailouts, because that sounds a lot more scandalous than helping low-income people buy insurance. Media shouldn’t adopt that frame.

    Don’t: Let Republicans off the hook for their hypocrisy

    Many of the ways Trump has acted to sabotage the ACA have been through executive order or unilateral action from the executive branch. Predictably, under former President Barack Obama, Republicans routinely freaked out over any executive order or unilateral action het put into place. If they come out supporting Trump’s use of unilateral action to end these payments, they should be called out as hypocrites.

    Two Republicans vocal in their opposition to Obama’s use of executive orders were Cruz and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). When Cruz appeared on the October 13 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to cheer Trump’s decision to end these payments, he was not asked about this hypocrisy:

    Jordan, however, was challenged on this point during his appearance on the October 13 edition of CNN’s New Day, with co-host Chris Cuomo pressing him on his previous criticism of unilateral action by the executive branch:

    All journalists should follow Cuomo’s line of questioning when speaking to any lawmaker in the coming days who was critical of Obama’s use of executive power, especially on health care.

  • Local TV coverage of Graham-Cassidy largely overlooked some of its scariest flaws

    Cuts to Medicaid were more likely to be mentioned, but effects felt by many disadvantaged communities were neglected

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Evening news coverage in several crucial local television markets failed to adequately convey the ramifications of the so-called “Graham-Cassidy” health care plan, the latest Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A majority of local news coverage last week in the selected markets focused on GOP attempts to wrangle support for the pending legislation with few, if any, significant mentions of how the bill would affect residents.

    Media Matters analyzed local television coverage of the Graham-Cassidy bill between September 18 and 22 in five major markets represented by Republican senators -- Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) -- who, at the time, had not yet committed their votes for or against the legislation (McCain and Collins have since said they could not support the legislation). According to this analysis, local affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC in the selected markets aired a total of 43 segments about the legislation during their evening newscasts, but much of the coverage involved little substance:

    • The loss of ACA guarantees for coverage of essential health benefits (EHBs) was mentioned zero times.
    • Graham-Cassidy proposals specifically targeting Planned Parenthood were mentioned just three times, while the legislation’s disproportionate impact on women was mentioned just once.
    • The disproportionate impact of Graham-Cassidy on low-income Americans was mentioned just three times.
    • Predicted insurance premium spikes resulting from Graham-Cassidy were mentioned just two times.
    • Projected insurance coverage losses for millions of Americans were mentioned just seven times.
    • The loss of ACA protections for Americans with pre-existing health conditions was mentioned just nine times.
    • Projected cuts and restrictions to the Medicaid program were mentioned just 19 times across 43 segments.

    Dangerous Medicaid cuts, insurance losses underreported

    Of the 43 total segments across all five markets, just 19 -- roughly 44 percent -- mentioned that  the Graham-Cassidy proposal to convert Medicaid funding into federal block grants while rolling back the ACA’s expansion of the program would result in significant benefit cuts for millions of Americans. According to a September 20 analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the steep cuts Graham-Cassidy would make to Medicaid in 2027 make the bill “likely [to] be even more damaging” than simply repealing the ACA in full would.

    According to a January 2017 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), completely repealing the ACA’s individual insurance mandate, its expansion of Medicaid, and its provision of tax credits for individual insurance market customers would result in 32 million fewer people having insurance by 2026. Graham-Cassidy promises to do all three, which is why a September 20 analysis from the Center for American Progress predicted insurance losses of 32 million by 2026 should the bill become law. Unfortunately, this staggering reversal of Obama-era insurance gains was mentioned only seven times by qualifying local news coverage -- roughly 16 percent of segments.

    Loss of protections for pre-existing conditions, essential health benefits

    Of the 43 segments included in this analysis, just nine -- roughly 21 percent -- mentioned that  the Graham-Cassidy proposal would weaken ACA protections serving millions of Americans living with pre-existing health conditions. As Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) explained to Axios, though Graham-Cassidy does not completely repeal ACA rules regarding pre-existing conditions, "they might end up only existing on paper." The bill would replace ACA protections against charging higher premiums to customers with existing medical problems with language that professors told PolitiFact is " vague and subject to broad interpretation.” A new draft of the bill issued over the weekend includes even more “weakened protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik. As Hiltzik explained, the previous draft “would have allowed states to apply for a waiver of federal rules” regarding individuals with pre-existing conditions, while the newest draft “doesn’t even require a waiver” to skirt the requirements.

    None of the segments reviewed for this analysis mentioned that Graham-Cassidy proposes to roll back essential health benefits (EHBs) enshrined by the ACA, by letting states opt out of requiring insurers to cover some particularly costly health care products. As FamiliesUSA explained in a June 27 blog, hollowing out these insurance requirements would be detrimental to millions of Americans who currently need or may one day seek treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders or require prenatal and maternity care. By rescinding EHB guarantees, Graham-Cassidy “would be a return to the days before the ACA” when “millions of people purchasing coverage on their own couldn’t get coverage for critical care,”including maternity care, ambulatory care, and hospitalization.

    Low-income families, the elderly, people with disabilities and mental health concerns

    Local TV coverage often neglected the disastrous effects of Graham-Cassidy’s Medicaid cuts on low-income communities that are served by the program. Just three segments (7 percent) mentioned that the law would harm low-income Americans by rolling back the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid benefits to “poor, working-age adults, a population traditionally not eligible for coverage.” As CBPP noted in its breakdown of the legislation, individual states would face “no requirement to offer low- and moderate-income people coverage or financial assistance.” Indeed, the toll Graham-Cassidy would have on working- and middle-class Americans is particularly harsh given that the legislation is also expected to result in a spike in insurance premiums -- a fact mentioned just twice in 43 segments.

    Graham-Cassidy’s disturbing impact on older Americans merited only four mentions -- in just over 9 percent of segments -- despite concerns voiced by the AARP that the bill “would result in an age tax for older Americans who would see their health care costs increase” as a result of the loss of consumer protections surrounding EHBs and pre-existing conditions.

    At the same time, the impact of the legislation on the tens of millions of Americans living with a disability was virtually absent from local coverage of Graham-Cassidy, and the legislation’s harmful effects on people dealing with mental illness was entirely neglected. Just one segment out of 43 mentioned that Graham-Cassidy would harm people with disabilities by restricting programs they rely on, such as Medicaid, and removing protections they have under current law. The harmful effects the law would have on health care providers and patients dealing with mental illness were never mentioned.

    Graham-Cassidy’s impact on women’s health overlooked

    Just three of 43 segments mentioned that the Graham-Cassidy legislation would freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood. According to Stats, the law “effectively defunds Planned Parenthood by prohibiting Medicaid reimbursements to organizations that meet a narrow description” clearly intended to target Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is a comprehensive national health care provider that disproportionately serves low-income women, but which is misleadingly portrayed as, at best, nothing more than an abortion clinic and, at worst, a criminal enterprise.

    In addition to the financial hit to Planned Parenthood, which right-wing opponents erroneously claim can be replaced by other community health centers, a Washington Post review of the legislation revealed that Graham-Cassidy is actually designed to impose a backdoor ban on constitutionally protected rights to an abortion. The legislation as currently proposed would begin funneling tax credits for individual market insurance plans through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2021, making the money subject to the Hyde amendment, “which prohibits taxpayer funds from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is at stake.”

    In addition to the restrictions Graham-Cassidy would impose on reproductive health care, the bill also limits ACA-enshrined protections for maternity care and contraceptive coverage, thereby increasing the cost burden for women who wish to prevent, maintain, or terminate a pregnancy. Despite the fact that Graham-Cassidy seems uniquely designed to harm women’s health, local TV news mentioned the disproportionate impact it would have on American women only once during the survey period.

    Impact on minority communities

    Local coverage of the Graham-Cassidy proposal failed entirely when discussing how the law would negatively affect minority communities if enacted. According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while roughly 21 percent of all Americans rely on Medicaid as their primary form of health insurance, the number spikes to over 34 percent for Native Americans and Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, over 33 percent for African-Americans, and over 30 percent for Hispanic Americans. Given their increased reliance on Medicaid, minority communities are among several disadvantaged groups that are particularly ill-equipped to handle additional cuts to the program.

    Furthermore, by eliminating protections for people with pre-existing conditions, the legislation would leave many minority communities at the mercy of massive premium increases in an unregulated insurance marketplace. Due to a confluence of environmental factors, some of the “health disparities affecting people of color” include increased susceptibility to cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other ailments.

    A tax giveaway to the wealthy

    Another aspect of the Graham-Cassidy bill that went unmentioned during the survey period was that Graham-Cassidy’s proposed expansion of the existing health savings account (HSA) model is effectively a tax giveaway to wealthier Americans. The legislation would increase the amount of pretax income families and individuals can contribute to HSAs, but it would do nothing for low- and middle-income Americans who already cannot afford to save money. As CBPP vice president Edwin Park noted in a November 2016 takedown of GOP proposals to expand HSAs, such a plan “would mostly help wealthy, not uninsured” people. Economist Kathryn Phillips further elaborated in a December blog for Health Affairs that HSAs “primarily benefit the wealthy, the healthy, and the educated” by providing a savings vehicle to tackle modest expenses. Additionally, KFF found in 2006, when the GOP was vetting a major health care overhaul during the Bush administration, that HSAs can increase out-of-pocket costs for “people with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high-cost medical needs” and would do nothing to increase coverage among the uninsured.

    Methodology

    Media Matters used iQ media to search evening newscasts (airing at 9 p.m., 10 p.m., or 11 p.m.) from local affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC in Anchorage, AK; Cincinnati, OH; Charleston, WV; Phoenix, AZ; and Portland, ME for segments that aired between September 18 and 22 about Graham-Cassidy. The markets included were either the largest television market in the selected states or, in the case of Cincinnati, a large market where Sen. Portman lives. We identified and reviewed all segments that included one or more the following words or phrases: Graham, Cassidy, Senate health, GOP health, Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, Obamacare. Segments were then coded for mentions of the following issues regarding Graham-Cassidy:

    • cuts to Medicaid;
    • increase in uninsured people;
    • impact on the elderly;
    • impact on minority communities;
    • impact on low-income people;
    • impact on disabled people;
    • impact on women;
    • increase in reliance on health savings accounts (HSAs);
    • increase in premiums;
    • potential rollback of essential health benefits (EHBs);
    • impact on people with pre-existing conditions;
    • freeze in Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood;
    • impact on mental health care;
    • impact on addiction care; and
    • impact on rural hospitals.

    We also coded for mentions that:

    • HSAs primarily help the wealthiest and/or do nothing to help low-income or uninsured people; and
    • a bipartisan group of governors criticized the bill in a September 18 letter.