Health Care Reform | Media Matters for America

Health Care Reform

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  • Right-wing media figures and online bots are going after “weak, spineless” Mitch McConnell

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media condemnation reached a fever pitch on August 9 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) commented that President Donald Trump had “excessive expectations” for health care reform, which many Trump loyalists in the conservative mediasphere interpreted as an attack on the president. In response, Trump sycophants along with online bots and trolls used their platforms to besmirch McConnell’s character, call for him to retire, and popularize the hashtag #DitchMitch on Twitter.

  • Prime-time cable programs ignored the voices of activists in their health care coverage

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During last week’s health care “vote-a-rama,” prime-time cable news coverage largely neglected the voices of activists, despite their crucial role in helping to block Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    Media Matters reviewed four nights of cable news coverage -- from 5 to 11 p.m. -- between when the “motion to proceed” was passed (which opened debate on possible plans to overturn the ACA) and the GOP “skinny repeal” bill was defeated in the Senate. During those four nights of coverage, cable news programs largely failed to include the perspectives of activists, and both CNN and Fox News disregarded these voices altogether:

    • CNN and Fox News did not host a single activist over four nights of health care coverage

    • MSNBC hosted five activists during the same time period, but they accounted for less than 10 percent of its prime-time guests included in discussions about health care.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Cable news coverage of health care has consistently disregarded diverse voices in favor of pundits

    Throughout Republican efforts to overturn the ACA, cable news repeatedly failed to offer diverse voices. Guests in conversations about health care were predominately white male pundits, while African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and women -- all of whom stand to lose disproportionately if the ACA is overturned -- received far less screen time.

    Additionally, cable news programs often ignored the personal stories of those that would be most affected by Republican health care policies, choosing to focus on the legislative process, at the expense of the human cost of the GOP’s repeated actions to undo the ACA. As Senate Republicans searched for a way to overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature health care act last week, cable coverage continued to erase the voices of those most intimately involved in the health care debate. CNN and Fox News failed to include a single activist amongst the combined 97 guest appearances on the channels during discussions of health care, and while MSNBC did host five activists, they made up less than 10 percent of the network's total guests hosted during prime-time to discuss health care.  

    Activists played a pivotal role in saving the ACA

    While this isn't the first time cable news failed to seek out the voices of activists, their disregard for activists' voices is shocking considering the influential role they have played throughout the health care battle. Employees and volunteers for organizations like MoveOn, ADAPT, and Planned Parenthood organized health care rallies across the country, and helped organize tens of thousands of calls to House and Senate offices on behalf of the ACA. Activists also kept constant pressure on elected officials, staging all-night protests in lawmakers' offices, and showing up to elected officials’ town hall meetings and other public appearances. Activists played a crucial role in pressuring Senators to vote no on repeal and replace bills, and in keeping public attention on health care in midst of numerous distractions, like the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Activists deserve credit for their role in the health care battle, and comprehensive news coverage needs to include their voices.

    Methodology 

    Media Matters searched Nexis for mentions of “health care,” “the Affordable Care Act,” “Obamacare,” “Republican health,” “GOP health,” “the Better Care Reconciliation Act,” or “BRCA” on prime-time cable news between July 25 (after the Senate passed the motion to proceed to debate) and July 28 (after the failure of “skinny repeal”). Segments were coded if they included a significant discussion of the Republican health care bill. “Significant discussion” was defined as at least two speakers in the segment engaging on the topic with one another. Guests that partook in discussions that included a “significant discussion” about health care were included in this study. Guests were considered “activists” if they were affiliated with a group actively working against GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. 

    Prime-time cable news refers to CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC weekday programming between 5 and 11 p.m. 

  • 6 key mistakes media made in covering the health care debate

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In the wee hours of the morning of July 28, Democrats, activists, and three Republican senators just barely thwarted the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Ever since President Donald Trump pledged to make repealing the ACA one of his first priorities as president -- and Republicans retreated to secrecy to take health care away from tens of millions of people -- media have continuously made six key mistakes in their health care coverage.

    Ignoring diversity and intersectionality

    During the health care debate, broadcast and cable news largely marginalized key perspectives from those who would be among the most affected by the legislation. This, in turn, correlated with a lack of coverage on how those same people would be affected by the legislation. Like the GOP, broadcast and cable news relied almost solely on white men to discuss the bill. This absence of diverse voices correlated with little to no coverage of how the legislation would affect marginalized groups, like the LGBTQ community and people of color.

    At its core, health care is an intersectional issue. As the American Medical Association noted, “Intersectionality has much to offer to population health in providing more precise identification of inequalities, in developing intervention strategies, and ensuring results are relevant within specific communities.” But this message was absent from most broadcast and cables news coverage of the GOP health care plans.

    Focusing on process over consequences

    Throughout the debate, media were focused heavily on the process behind the bill, highlighting vote counts and speculating about support. At the same time, key consequences of the bills were barely noted. A Media Matters study found that on cable news, the negative impacts of the bills were drowned out by discussion of the process. Cable and broadcast networks also largely ignored personal stories by those who would be most impacted by the bills. At every stage, the impact of the bills was whitewashed by the media, including Sunday morning political shows, national newspapers, cable morning shows, and some local newspapers.

    Letting the GOP off the hook for sabotage efforts

    Right-wing media also adopted the GOP’s revisionist history when it came to the ACA and allowed Republican lawmakers to escape responsibility for their years-long efforts to sabotage the health care law. Right-wing media repeatedly pointed to things like insurer withdrawals from the exchanges and slight downturns in gains brought about by the law to claim the ACA was “struggling,” or even in a “death spiral.” In doing so, right-wing media conveniently forgot that the GOP has sabotaged the law every chance it could by eliminating the risk corridor provision of the law, refusing to build insurance markets in several states, rejecting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, and not appropriating “dedicated funds” to implement the law.

    The Trump era has seen even more extensive sabotage efforts. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities chronicled over a dozen ways the Trump administration has already weakened the law. And recently, Trump renewed his threat to end cost sharing payments to insurers, a move that would put the market in shambles.

    Not challenging Republicans

    Not only were Republicans relatively unscathed by their efforts to sabotage the ACA, but television reporters and hosts also allowed them to push misinformation by failing to debunk their claims. Throughout the debate, Republicans took to broadcast and cable news to push falsehoods in order to gain support for their various plans to repeal and replace the ACA. Sunday shows, in particular, proved to be a fruitful platform for GOP lawmakers to lie about the law.

    When Trump gave a blockbuster interview on July 19 to The New York Times, all three reporters failed to push the president on health care policy as the bill was coming to a vote in the Senate. Similarly, MSNBC’s Morning Joe allowed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to push a nonsense claim that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which found the bills would throw tens of millions of people off insurance, had a methodology akin to astrology.

    Pushing unworkable solutions

    Right-wing media used the debate to push some of their favorite health care policies, even though they all fall somewhere between unworkable and disastrous. One of the most popular policy proposals was high-risk pools, which have “a lousy history” and have been “prohibitively expensive for consumers.” Additionally, Fox News’ Marc Siegel praised health savings accounts, which “primarily benefit the wealthy, the healthy, and the educated,” not the uninsured.

    Perhaps the most dangerous solution pushed by right-wing media was one that almost became law: repealing the ACA without a replacement plan. The CBO said such a move would have left 32 million people uninsured and premiums doubled, by 2026.

    Ignoring the debate all together

    Perhaps the most ridiculous mistake television and print media made during the health care debate was ignoring it. While Senate Republicans used an “almost-unprecedented opacity” to craft the bill, media let them get away with it by either not reporting or burying reports on the legislation. One of the worst offenders of this strategy was Fox’s Sean Hannity who somehow discussed Hillary Clinton more than the health care bill as the Senate was voting on it.

  • ABC’s This Week finds out what happens when you have fringe radio host Bill Cunningham on as a guest

    Cunningham used his appearance to compare Sen. John McCain to a “backstabber, O.J.-style”

    Blog ››› ››› KATHERINE HESS

    Bill Cunningham likened Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to O.J. Simpson, calling the senator a “backstabber” on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Sen. McCain voted no along with Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Senate Democrats to block the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

    Cunningham has a history of inflammatory on-air commentary, especially when it comes to former President Barack Obama and discussing women whom he disagrees with. In some of his many appearances on the Fox News Channel, he questioned fellow guest Tamara Holder’s ability to do math, said she didn’t “look like a Catholic girl” but rather a “Farrah Fawcett wannabe,” and told her to know her role as a woman and “shut her mouth.” He has also more recently stated that the “ugly broad” Joy Behar should be “muzzled” for criticizing Trump.

    He has continuously called the former president "Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama,” and asserted that it would be a “shock” if he won "in these difficult terrorist times” in 2008. He repeatedly spread misinformation about President Obama to his listeners, alluding that Obama and Satan were somehow linked, and stated that Obama wanted to “gas all the Jews.”

    Cunningham has been a vocal supporter of Trump, calling him the “Trumpster,” boosting his supposed accomplishments and speaking vehemently against his critics. During this segment, Cunningham defended Trump’s record, saying, “I don't think any president after six or seven months could travel the way the Trumpster has traveled, with the outpouring of love and affection, despite the fact that a few days ago, the backstabber, O.J.- style, who is Sen. John McCain, that began his public life as a hero and is ending up giving a thumbs down and a middle finger to the middle class by not repealing Obamacare.”

    From the July 30 edition of ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

    MARTHA RADDATZ (CO-HOST): OK, so [Trump] does seem to have some pretty solid base support, but I've been around the country and in Ohio, and Pennsylvania, a lot, and the independents who voted for Donald Trump do seem to be a little squishier of late. And how about that poll? Our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has his approval rating down to 36 percent, the lowest for any president at the six month mark in 70 years. So what does he do about people outside of his base? The rest of America? What advice would you give him?

    BILL CUNNINGHAM: Martha, when he went to Youngstown, [OH], thousands and thousands showed up. If he would come here to Cincinnati, the same thing would happen. I don't think any president after six or seven months could travel the way the Trumpster has traveled, with the outpouring of love and affection, despite the fact that a few days ago, the backstabber, O.J.-style, who is Sen. John McCain, that began his public life as a hero and is ending up giving a thumbs down and a middle finger to the middle class by not repealing Obamacare. What happened a couple of days ago is terrible. And Trump, I think, has lost a bit of little support in the periphery, but the heart and soul of America that beats this great country is Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa. This is where real Americans, normal Americans live. These are the lands of J.D. Vance and Hillbilly Elegy. This is where normal people get up every day, and everywhere I look, everywhere they look, things are good. Everything that should be up is up. Things that should be down are down. America is pretty good. Plus, school starts in two weeks. I see an America bursting at the seams to get loose. And frankly, most of my listeners are proud that the Trumpster is still in the White House and he’s still extremely popular among the base who put him there. And if the election were held today, I think there was a poll a few days ago, that the Trumpster would beat Hillary again, and again, and again. Basically in the land of J.D. Vance and Hillbilly Elegy, things are pretty good. What I see on television and read in newspapers from the East Coast is a disconnect to normal Americans like me.

  • The predictable hero story of the health care vote -- and what it misses

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Late last night, the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act was defeated in a Senate vote, with two members of the Republican Party voting against the measure in full force, and a third Republican senator voting no because it’s part of his brand, I guess.

    Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) came out strongly against the repeal efforts early on, opposing previous bills aimed at repealing the ACA and voting against the procedural motion to begin debate on the repeal proposals.

    Let’s be clear: Opposing an absolutely devastating disaster of a bill that would lead to higher uninsured rates and, likely, the deaths of some of your constituents is the bare minimum any competent lawmaker can do. As The New Republic’s Sarah Jones wrote, “Obamacare’s real saviors have been dragged out of wheelchairs, arrested, and assaulted for weeks. They are, as you would expect, the people who stand to lose the most if Obamacare is repealed. They are people with disabilities: activists associated with [the disability rights group] ADAPT, and the unaffiliated individuals and carers who came forward to share their experiences and to demand better from the GOP.”

    Collins and Murkowski aren’t exactly heroes, either. But at least these two senators committed to opposing dangerous repeal measures from the start, in the face of thuggish tactics from the men they work with. Collins and Murkowski faced escalating, sometimes physically oriented, threats from male colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration because of their opposition to the bill. Murkowski was reportedly threatened by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a personal phone call. President Donald Trump tweeted that Murkowski had “let the Republicans, and our country, down” after she voted against the motion to begin debate on the repeal earlier in the week. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) said somebody ought to “go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass,” in defense of Trump’s tweet singling out Murkowski. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) ominously threatened to “duel” the two lawmakers (if only they were men).

    And then there is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the media’s favorite political figure despite his signature tendency to say one cool, “maverick” thing to reporters and then immediately do the other -- often falling into line behind his party, though occasionally going rogue to further secure his media darling standing. McCain also did the absolute bare minimum and voted against the bill in the end, after months of hedging on his stances about a repeal effort. He would have been applauded by the media either way.

    Guess which senator a bunch of reporters chose to cast as the hero? The average news consumer, scrolling through headlines on social media or on email, would draw one clear and utterly false conclusion about who really did the most to defeat the repeal measures: an indecisive, press-conscious dud of a senator instead of his much stronger female colleagues, or the grass-roots activists who far, far, far surpass them all.

    [CNN, 7/28/17]

    [The Washington Post, 7/28/17]

    [The Washington Post, 7/28/17]

    [Politico, 7/28/17]

    [The New York Times, 7/28/17]

    [The New York Times, 7/27/17]

    [NBC News, 7/28/17]

    [USA Today, 7/27/17]

    [The Associated Press, 7/28/17]

    [The Daily Beast, 7/28/17]

  • How Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are (still) ignoring the health care debate

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As Senate Republicans began holding votes to take away health care from tens of millions of Americans, Fox News’ Sean Hannity still chose to focus primarily on phony Clinton pseudo-scandals. Similarly, Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight focused on irrelevant and often offensive stories while largely ignoring health care. Even The Five, which did discuss health care at length, made time for a segment hyping Democratic frustrations with Hillary Clinton.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on July 24 that the Senate would be holding a vote on whether to proceed to debate on the various Republican proposals to repeal and, in some cases, replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which have been projected to take away health care from upward of 22 million people ("straight repeal" would strip away insurance from 32 million). On July 25, the Senate narrowly approved a motion to proceed to debate and then rejected the first plan McConnell put up to a vote.

    Despite the new actions on health care, Fox News’ prime-time shows focused nearly as much on bogus Clinton scandals and political intrigue as they did on health care on July 24 and July 25. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox’s prime-time line-up of Hannity, The Five, and Tucker Carlson Tonight spent 35 minutes and 49 seconds discussing health care while devoting 34 minutes and 56 seconds to discussions of the Clintons.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Of the three programs, Hannity’s coverage, unsurprisingly, was the most skewed. Over the two-day period, Hannity spent 13 minutes and 4 seconds on health care while devoting 30 minutes and 42 seconds to the Clintons. Even as senators were taking votes on health care, Hannity ran two full segments on the Clintons and spoke about health care in brief spurts of less than two minutes throughout the show.

    Meanwhile, while the Senate was voting on health care, Tucker Carlson avoided discussing it at all. On the July 25 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host went live to President Donald Trump’s rally in Ohio for 10 minutes and 57 seconds. Carlson did manage to spend 17 seconds on health care during his July 24 broadcast, which was mainly a video of Trump lamenting Obamacare.

    Instead of covering health care or the Clintons, Carlson focused his attention on stories that were either offensive or non-urgent.

    Unlike the other prime-time shows, Fox News’ The Five spent a significant amount of time discussing the health care bills. But the hosts also made time for a segment on Democrats criticizing Hillary Clinton.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of health care, healthcare, Better Care Reconciliation Act, BCRA, Senate health, GOP health, or Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, and Obamacare, as well as Bill, Hillary, and Clinton on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, and Hannity on July 24 and 25.

    Conversations were included in this study if health care or the Clintons was the stated topic or discussion or if two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed health care or the Clintons with one another. If a speaker mentioned health care or the Clintons in a multitopic segment and no other speaker in that segment engaged with the comment, then it was excluded from the analysis as a passing mention. All teasers of upcoming segments about health care or the Clintons were excluded from the analysis.

    The amount of time spent on Trump’s rally was calculated by monitoring it from beginning to end on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

  • Fox & Friends leaves out that Obamacare mother actually benefited from the law

    Hosts also pressure Republicans and deflect blame from Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As the Senate Republicans prepared to vote on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Fox & Friends spent the morning misleading its audience about congressional procedure heading into the vote, omitting key details in an interview with a critic of the ACA (a mother who blamed health care reform for a lack of options for her son's care), and failing to mention that the GOP sabotaged the ACA for years. The hosts also, directly and indirectly, pressured Republicans into voting for the bill while shifting blame away from President Donald Trump if it fails.

    One of the first health care segments on the July 25 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends was an interview with Marjorie Weer, a mother who was invited to the White House on July 24 to serve as an example of someone victimized by Obamacare.

    During the interview, Weer discussed her son’s disability and said the ACA has made it more difficult for her son to get care. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt, who conducted the interview, left out a few previously reported details of Weer’s story wherein her family directly benefitted from health care reform. A July 24 article in The Post and Courier pointed out that Weer and her family “benefited from the Obamacare provision that insurance companies cannot deny coverage to an individual because of a preexisting condition.” The Weer family also benefited from another provision banning “lifetime spending limits.”

    Additionally, Earhardt failed to note that cuts to Medicaid in the Republican-authored bills under consideration in Congress would cause sweeping cuts to special education programs, which would presumably be important to many families with a child who has a disability. During her Post and Courier interview, Weer admitted that her son has actually benefitted from Medicaid, which she called a “lifesaver” before endorsing efforts to “rein it in.” The Post and Courier added: "Ultimately, Weer said, she felt fairly confident that under the Senate Republican bill, preexisting conditions protections would be preserved, along with the ban on lifetime spending caps. Whether the legislation sufficiently accomplishes these goals is, in fact, subject to debate between supporters and critics."

    The topic of health care also came up when the hosts of Fox & Friends interviewed Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) later on in the program.

    In the interview, co-host Steve Doocy attempted to pressure Manchin into voting for a motion to proceed to a debate for legislation to replace the ACA by misleadingly suggesting that senators “can offer up amendments and change it to anyway you want it.” Doocy added that it appeared as if Democrats “are a party of no” because they do not support a motion to proceed. Manchin corrected Doocy, telling him, “That’s not the way it works in the real world.” Manchin pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would be able to control what amendments are in the bill and would have the power to exclude Democratic amendments.

    During a later segment, co-host Ed Henry also framed the Senate vote by laying out the current state of Obamacare, saying that the health care system was “struggling” with costs and falsely claiming, “the exchanges are falling apart.”

    Henry also brought up “the destruction of the exchanges” again when he was recapping Weer’s interview.

    Henry left out some important context. The challenges the exchanges face today are largely due to Republican sabotage at the state and federal level. As The Washington Post noted, Republicans in Congress blocked funding to build a federal exchange and urged Republican-led states to “refuse to build their own insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, Politico reported, “Congressional Republicans refused repeatedly to appropriate dedicated funds" needed for the federal government to "take at least partial responsibility for creating marketplaces serving 36 states" that “declined to create their own state insurance exchanges.” Republican stonewalling left "the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies to cobble together HealthCare.gov by redirecting funds from existing programs," according to Politico.

    Fox & Friends also spent time pressuring Republican senators, either directly or indirectly, to support the bill. In an interview with Fox contributor Newt Gingrich, Doocy suggested that if they don’t support the bill, Republicans could look like they were “fibbing” when they promised for years to repeal the ACA.

    And in an interview with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has spoken out against both the health care reform law and numerous GOP replacement plans, Doocy said that “millions of people who voted for you guys are going to be disappointed” if any Republican senators object to proceeding with debate.

    As Obamacare’s fate is uncertain for the time being, the hosts covered their bases and attempted to deflect blame from Trump if the bills under consideration in the Republican-controlled Congress fail. Earhardt asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if Trump would “take the blame” if a repeal bill does not pass, leaving Huckabee Sanders to defend her boss and pre-emptively slam congressional Republicans.

  • MSNBC host ridiculously claims Medicaid recipients only have “paper insurance”

    Hugh Hewitt: “Medicaid is paper insurance that isn’t actually health care”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt, a right-wing radio host and Trump apologist who was bizarrely rewarded by the network last month with his own weekend show, used an appearance on the July 24 edition of MSNBC Live to push the absurd claim that Medicaid is just “paper insurance” for many recipients and “isn't actually health care.” Hewitt’s disparagement of the Medicaid program came just moments after President Donald Trump concluded an anti-Obamacare tirade at the White House, in which Trump pressured undecided Republican senators to support the GOP’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Right-wing media figures routinely criticise the Medicaid program and its recipients while promoting Republican plans to gut the program. Hewitt’s critique of the supposedly low quality of Medicaid coverage has become more prevalent among Trump-aligned pundits in recent weeks despite it having been discredited years ago. From the July 24 segment:

    ALI VELSHI (HOST): Frankly, the stuff that Donald Trump said, you and I have discussed this many times, he does say a lot of things that just aren’t true about Obamacare. He is focused on the Obamacare exchanges and the difficulties that they have had, which we have outlined on this show. They are absolutely very real, many Americans have seen their premiums go up. But carrying on about how it’s broken, and it’s all a mess, and it’s-- everything is a lie, and it’s all a failure, and the whole thing is destroyed. It’s disingenuous, and it’s not going to work for [Sen. Shelley Moore] Capito [(R-WV)], and [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski [(R-AK)], and [Sen. Susan] Collins [(R-ME)], and [Sen. Dean] Heller [(R-NV)].

    [...]

    VELSHI: More Americans benefitted from the Medicaid expansion than the Obamacare markets, that’s the part that the president never talks about.

    HUGH HEWITT: It depends on what you define as “benefitted” from Medicaid. There are a lot of people -- and I was a local health administration for a number of years -- who believe that Medicaid is paper insurance that isn’t actually health care. It does work for a lot of people, it doesn’t do anything for many people.