Health Care Reform

Issues ››› Health Care Reform
  • TV news missed an opportunity to report on unprecedented Senate health care legislation

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Evening broadcast and cable news coverage since June 1 has largely neglected ongoing Republican deliberations in the Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with major news networks devoting a fraction of their airtime to the prospective legislation. The sparse coverage also frequently overlooked the Republican Party’s unprecedented secrecy about its draft legislation, which Senate leaders plan to vote on before the end of the month without any input from outside experts, their Democratic colleagues, or the public.

  • MSNBC’s Elise Jordan faceplants while trying to find a silver lining in CBO’s new Trumpcare score

    The House-passed health care bill is arguably worse than the disaster from two months ago

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released another estimate of the budgetary and insurance market impacts likely to stem from the American Health Care Act (AHCA) if the version passed earlier this month by House Republicans becomes law. The score was arguably worse than a gruesome estimate first published on March 13, a fact seemingly lost on MSNBC conservative commentator Elise Jordan, who tried to defend the bill and failed.

    On the May 24 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, correspondent Kasie Hunt spent several minutes detailing the CBO estimate released just minutes earlier, noting that AHCA was estimated to reduce federal deficits by $119 billion through 2026 at the cost of increasing the uninsured population by 23 million. Hunt added that the CBO believes people living with preexisting health conditions would be “ultimately unable to purchase health insurance at premiums that are about what they face under current law” if they lived in states that use a waiver of these existing patient protections built into the AHCA.

    After Hunt concluded her segment by pointing out that the new CBO projections are not “dramatically different” than previous economic estimates, host Nicolle Wallace turned to a panel of guests to discuss possible political fallout for a bill that was already polling as low as 17 percent. Political analyst Dr. Jason Johnson predicted that the health care legislation would prove to be “a death knell for the midterm elections” before Jordan claimed the CBO estimate was “actually better than I expected” because “they do have a substantial savings of $119 billion, and it wasn’t looking that way in previous estimates of the prior plan.” Jordan pitched this report as proof that GOP-led health care reform could at least reduce government spending even if it couldn’t increase insurance coverage.

    Unfortunately for Jordan, she is not convincing anyone. In its March 13 estimate, the CBO predicted the AHCA would kick 24 million people off their health insurance over ten years and reduce deficits by $337 billion. A March 23 estimate also found that a new amendment to AHCA would reduce deficits by $150 billion while still kicking 24 million people off insurance. The May 24 estimate of the version of the AHCA actually passed by the House contains by far the least deficit reduction (just $119 billion over ten years) but still predicts almost the same number of insurance losses.

    More importantly, Jordan is egregiously exaggerating the significance of deficit reductions stemming from the bill. According to the CBO, the U.S. federal government will spend $49.9 trillion through 2026 and accumulate $8.6 trillion in additional deficit under current law, meaning the AHCA results in a meager deficit reduction of just 1.4 percent -- in exchange for virtually doubling the number of uninsured.

    Watch the full segment here:

    *This blog has been updated to clarify the AHCA's impact on long-term federal deficits.

  • News reports on Trump's budget highlight human cost of his broken promises

    Budget proposal will include deep cuts to Medicaid and Social Security, programs Trump promised to protect during campaign

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Multiple news outlets have reported on the harsh human toll of President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which is expected to gut programs that guarantee basic living standards, including parts of Medicaid and Social Security. These cuts directly contradict Trump’s promise to save the programs “without cuts.”

    The White House first hinted at slashing programs that help working- and middle-class Americans on February 26 when, according to Bloomberg, Trump floated proposals to increase defense spending by 10 percent while cutting programs including assistance for low-income Americans while still promising not to touch Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The White House claimed these drastic cuts would help spur economic growth, an absurd claim that was resoundingly ridiculed by economists as “deep voodoo” and “wholly unrealistic.” The administration’s initial budgetary proposals were so drastic and poorly thought out that they stunned many observers and experts. The White House even advocated cutting assistance to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would be particularly harmful to “small-town America,” and Meals on Wheels, which “doesn’t make economic sense” and would cruelly deny millions of elderly Americans basic companionship and a hot meal.

    On May 21, The Washington Post reported that the White House will unveil a formal federal budget proposal that goes even further than the administration’s earlier indications by proposing “massive cuts to Medicaid” and other anti-poverty public assistance programs. On May 22, Axios reported that the president plans to cut $1.7 trillion over 10 years from federal assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which collectively serve tens of millions of people. (Axios incorrectly stated that Trump’s budget plan “won’t reform Social Security or Medicare,” before outlining Trump’s plan to cut SSDI and incorporate massive Medicaid restrictions that would become law if his Obamacare repeal plan is ever enacted.)

    As details of Trump’s budget plan continued to leak, some media outlets explained the devastating consequences for millions of Americans if the White House gets its way and these drastic cuts take effect. They also explained that Trump’s embrace of deep cuts to components of Medicaid and Social Security represent a betrayal of his promises from the campaign.

    CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans explained on the May 22 edition of CNN Newsroom that much of the money being cut from mandatory spending would come from Medicaid, which could see up to a 25 percent reduction in federal funding, pushing the financial burden onto the states and kicking 14 million people off their health insurance programs. Romans mentioned that protecting Medicaid is one of many campaign promises from Trump “that are turning out not to be true.”

    On the May 22 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing went even further in breaking down the human toll of Trump’s budget cuts with NBC News senior editor Beth Fouhy and New York Times national reporter Yamiche Alcindor. The show aired part of an interview with a mother of two young children, who told Fouhy that if these cuts are enacted, the costs of care for her child with cerebral palsy will bankrupt her. Then they showed a clip of Trump on the campaign trail proclaiming that he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Alcindor discussed a report she wrote for the Times earlier this month about the human costs of budget cuts that would lead eliminate programs that help provide small communities with access to clean drinking water, drug rehabilitation centers, and jobs programs:

  • CNN Town Hall Shows That The Health Care Debate Is About Life And Death

    Audiences Need To Hear More Stories From People Like Kati McFarland

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Viewers of CNN’s prime-time town hall event with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) witnessed personal stories from Americans across the political spectrum concerned about their country’s future. One person’s struggles, in particular, highlighted the life and death stakes of the Republican Party’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and set a standard for contextualizing the human costs of this political debate that other news outlets should follow.

    On May 15, Pelosi appeared for an hour-long town hall during which she shared her perspective on how Democrats in Congress plan to respond to the right-wing agenda set out by their Republican colleagues and President Donald Trump. Moderator Chris Cuomo opened the forum with the late-breaking bombshell that Trump improperly shared classified intelligence with agents of the Russian government and moved on to questions from the audience on a host of topics.

    One person Cuomo introduced was 25-year-old college student and Arkansas resident Kati McFarland, who “made headlines earlier this year” when she confronted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) at a February constituent event regarding his support for repealing the ACA. McFarland presented Pelosi with the same grim reality that she told to Cotton, stating, “Without the ACA that saved my life, without the protections of the ACA, I will die.” She also questioned what Pelosi and Democrats plan to do to stop the Republican health care agenda, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), from becoming law and putting her life at risk. From the May 15 town hall:

    McFarland’s perspective as one of the millions of Americans who might lose their health insurance coverage and patient protections enshrined in the ACA is sorely lacking from broadcast and cable news coverage of the health care policy debate.

    A Media Matters analysis of cable news programming from February 18-26, a week of nationwide grassroots collective actions dubbed by organizers as the “Resistance Recess,” revealed that just three of 88 guests featured during prime-time discussions of a wave of town hall protests sweeping the country were actual attendees of the events. Outlets largely relied on journalists and political pundits to discuss the optics of the burgeoning political resistance movement, rather than the people and issues leading that resistance. Shortly after the AHCA narrowly survived a vote in the House of Representatives, Media Matters called on news outlets to feature more stories about people like McFarland who are directly affected by the GOP’s health care agenda. McFarland’s appearance at CNN’s prime-time town hall is a good start, but the human consequences of the GOP’s attempt to dismantle health care reform must remain a mainstay of news coverage. For millions of Americans the end results are about far more than political calculus; this is about life or death.

  • It’s Not Just Trump: Republicans Constantly Lying About Health Care Means Reporters Face A Growing Challenge

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As the Beltway press scrambles to keep pace with the White House’s shifting explanations as to why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey -- explanations that seem built on a laundry list of daily deceptions -- journalists are now fighting a multiple-front war versus the Republican crusade to embrace fabrications as a rule.

    The erratic new president has unleashed a torrent of lies in the place of public policy discussion, but the serial mendacity on the right is hardly limited to Trump. That means journalists face a growing challenge in trying to ferret out the facts.

    After voting to pass a sweeping health care bill with no formal cost assessment, which hadn’t been marked up in policy committees, and which hadn’t even been read by all members of Congress, Republicans have been on an extraordinary public relations campaign to support the controversial legislation.

    The push is extraordinary because Republican officials, led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, are aggressively fabricating claims about the bill that’s now pending before the Senate. In a Trump era of endless firsts, this is likely the first time we’ve seen a major American political party try to pass a landmark social policy initiative by categorically misstating almost every key claim about the bill.   

    No, the House bill does not protect people with pre-existing conditions. It does not protect older Americans from increased insurance costs. It does not mean everyone will be charged the same for insurance. The bill wasn’tbipartisan.” And it does not allow “for every single person to get the access to the kind of coverage that they want,” as Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price claims.

    If it did those things, the bill wouldn’t be controversial, would it? So instead, Republicans are committed to selling a fantasy version of the House bill -- and hoping the press doesn’t call them out on it.

    “What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.”

    This represents a dangerous new age in American politics. If Republicans succeed by lying about their health care plan, there’s no telling what the next target of GOP fabrications will be.

    Right now, the future does not look promising because while some journalists and opinion writers, including those quoted above, are rightfully pointing out the GOP lies, others are routinely treating Republican health care lies as merely assertions in a larger he said/he said partisan debate.

    As Brian Beutler noted at The New Republic:

    To that end, these Republicans are counting on the reporters who interview them, and the news outlets that report on AHCA, to either not grasp finer points of health policy or to feel inhibited from disputing lies, so that the lies get transmitted to the public uncorrected.

    Indeed, if Republicans don’t get called out for trafficking in fabrications, what’s the incentive for them to stop? If the press treats the GOP’s systematic lying as nothing more than partisan spin, there’s little downside to the strategy.

    On Twitter, some observers have highlighted news organizations guilty of privileging GOP health care lies:

    And:

    Note that it wasn’t just Axios’ Twitter feed that failed. In its write-up of Ryan’s TV appearance, Axios simply regurgitated the Republican’s false claims about health care and provided readers with no context about how many central untruths he was peddling.

    Meanwhile, look at this feel-good New York Times headline that followed Ryan’s TV appearance and ask yourself, why would Republicans start telling the truth if lying produces headlines like this?

    House Health Care Bill Is ‘Us Keeping Our Promises,’ Paul Ryan Says

    And note how The Associated Press struggled while covering Secretary Price’s recent illogical claim that a proposed $880 billion cut in Medicaid funding to states over 10 years would actually help states provide better health care (emphasis added):

    CBO's analysis highlighted an $880 billion cut to Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, which Price sought to cast as a way to give states more leeway to experiment with the program. The Obama-era law expanded Medicaid with extra payments to 31 states to cover more people. The House bill halts the expansion, in addition to cutting federal spending on the program.

    But Price insisted Sunday, "There are no cuts to the Medicaid program," adding that resources were being apportioned "in a way that allows states greater flexibility."

    Basically, Price was claiming up is down, and AP did its best to let him get away with it.

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed a previous version of the bill passed by the House, the $880 billion in Medicaid cuts would translate into 14 million people losing Medicaid coverage.

    After pressing Price during a recent interview on his central contradiction about Medicaid (i.e. big cuts make it better!), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell seemed a bit exasperated: “I think a lot of people wonder how taking more than $800 billion out of something is going to put more resources in it.”

    It was good that Mitchell compelled Price to answer, but how did NBC News then treat Price’s nonsensical Meet the Press appearance? It rewarded him by repeating his health care lies in a headline:  “HHS Sec. Tom Price: 'Nobody Will Be Worse Off Financially' Under GOP Health Plan.”

    And the lede of that article:

    No one will be adversely affected by the Republicans' new health care bill once it's enacted and more people would be covered, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

    Politico did something similar for comments from Ryan: “Ryan: GOP Health Care Bill Not Only Good Policy, But Good Politics.”

    For the GOP, that’s mission accomplished. And somewhere, Trump is smiling.

    The good news is there’s still plenty of time for reporters to accurately describe how Republicans are trying to sell health care via baldfaced lies.

    In Friday’s Washington Post, Dave Weigel did just that. He wrote a straightforward report about how Republicans, pressed at town hall meetings to defend the GOP’s bill, have unfurled “a series of flat misstatements and contradictions about what’s actually in the bill.”

    Today, Republicans are unapologetic about spreading health care fabrications. More journalists should simply document that fact.  

  • The Emergency Room Is No Place For Routine Care

    Right-Wing Media Push Absurd Idea That The Uninsured Can Just Go To The E.R.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Right-wing media attempted to pacify the millions of Americans who would lose their health insurance coverage if the American Health Care Act (AHCA) becomes law with the absurd notion that people do not need insurance to receive access to health care via the emergency room. In reality, laws requiring hospitals to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay apply only to emergency care to stabilize a patient; they do not constitute a mandate to provide all of a patient’s routine health care needs.

    Right-wing media have attempted to defend Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted for the AHCA -- a previous version of which was expected to strip health insurance coverage from up to 24 million Americans -- by pushing the misleading idea that those without medical coverage can just go to the emergency room. On the May 7 edition of Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich dismissed late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s heartfelt plea that no child should go without health care on account of their family’s finances, denouncing what he called the “mythology of the left” and claiming hospitals will treat a sick person regardless of their ability to pay. On the May 8 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, The Blaze’s Lawrence Jones pushed the same narrative that those without health insurance can access care at emergency rooms when he attempted to defend Rep. Raul Labrador’s (R-ID) comments at a town hall that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” This narrative even made it’s way onto the May 9 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where host Joe Scarborough claimed that “we already have universal health care coverage; the problem is that so much of it is driven by emergency room visits.”

    Hospital emergency rooms have been required to provide care for the uninsured since the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) was enacted in 1986, but the provider is required only to “stabilize a patient within its capacity.” EMTALA does not mandate that a hospital provide full medical treatments to an uninsured patient, only that “patients receive appropriate emergency care.” Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, explained in a blog post that EMTALA requires only treatment of an emergency situation, not provision of the regular life-saving treatment necessary for many illnesses, such as diabetes:

    Over 25 million people in the United States have diabetes, requiring regular access to medication to stay alive. They can’t get insulin in an emergency room. They can’t get needed eye exams or kidney function tests in the emergency room. They can’t get a checkup in the emergency room. But once they go into hypoglycemic shock or once their feet become gangrenous, then they can get examined and treated. Does that sound like access to health care?

    Emergency rooms are designed to treat emergencies, not provide care for all health conditions, and they are a costly alternative to seeking treatment at a doctor’s office for a minor illness or injury. Since the passage of Affordable Care Act (ACA), more low-income Americans have had access to health insurance and, with it, regular preventative services. In fact, states that accepted the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid found new enrollees took advantage of this new access and were 62.9 percent more likely to visit a general care physician. Low-income Americans are now less likely to face crushing medical debt thanks in part to not having to bear the uninsured cost of emergency room visits and catastrophic care, which was the case for millions of Americans before the ACA became law. Dismantling the ACA, as columnist Michael Hiltzik explained in the Los Angeles Times, would put millions at risk of losing access to care and possibly facing medical bankruptcy once again.

    During the May 8 edition of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel responded directly to Gingrich’s absurd emergency room claims by explaining that emergency care is often just one part of a patient’s treatment. Kimmel noted that his son has had “a dozen doctors appointments” since his initial emergency, along with numerous ancillary costs associated with his treatments, which “Newt forgot to mention.” The back-and-forth between Gingrich and Kimmel became a story unto itself, and it was the subject of a panel segment on the May 9 edition of CNN’s New Day, in which co-host Chris Cuomo reiterated that an emergency room is not the appropriate place to treat all of a person’s health care needs:

  • CNN’s Stephen Moore Accidentally Confirms Trump Was Lying About Commitment To Protect Medicaid

    Moore: Medicaid Cuts Were “Central To Our Plan All Along,” Contrary To Trump’s Public Statements

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Discredited right-wing economic pundit and former Trump campaign economic adviser Stephen Moore accidentally let slip that gutting the Medicaid program “was central” to President Donald Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare, despite the president’s repeated assertions that he would not touch the program. The statement corroborates admissions Moore made at a private event last July, when he claimed that Trump would fund massive tax cuts and reckless spending by dismantling programs that provide basic living standards for millions of Americans.

    During the May 8 edition of CNN Newsroom, Moore -- CNN’s “senior economics analyst” -- was joined by University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee to discuss the merits of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett’s argument that the Trump health care agenda amounts to little more than a tax cut for the rich funded by cuts to health care subsidies for low-income Americans. Goolsbee pointed out that Trump’s health care legislation “cuts taxes for high-income people by hundreds of billions of dollars” at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid, which Trump promised “he would never cut.” Moore interjected falsely: “He never said that we weren’t going to reform Medicaid,” arguing, “That was central to our plan all along”:

    Moore’s claim was debunked on air by co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, as well as Goolsbee, who cited Trump’s tweets and public statements as proof that he had broken his promise to protect Medicaid. Reporters who tuned in for the performance also noted Moore’s false statement. Moore accepted Berman’s correction before quickly pivoting to talking points extolling the virtues of converting Medicaid to block grants, which would also amount to a massive benefit cut for recipients.

    Moore’s secondary claim that gutting Medicaid was “central to our plan all along” drew little notice from the fact-checkers, but it sheds light on Trump’s real agenda. According to a September 7 article from HuffPost political reporter Christina Wilkie, Moore had outlined Trump’s often contradictory economic plans during a “question-and-answer session” at a private July 14 meeting of the conservative Council for National Policy (CNP) in Cleveland, OH. During the event, Moore suggested that Trump planned to pay for his costly economic agenda by removing supposedly onerous public protections imposed by the federal government and enacting “draconian public assistance reforms and cuts in social services.” Since taking office, Trump has proposed a budget and health care agenda that would fulfill those promises. As the article noted, Moore’s zeal for tearing down anti-poverty programs, including Medicaid, seems to undermine Trump’s claim that he would focus on “looking out for the downtrodden.” It also confirms that imposing this harsh agenda -- and lying about it -- was indeed “central to” the Trump team’s economic plan “all along.”

  • The Passage Of Trumpcare Means It Is Time To Interview Kati McFarland Again

    The “Resistance Recess” Star Said ACA Repeal Would Mean Certain Death; Americans Need To Hear Her Story

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Republican attempts to coalesce around a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were initially stymied after tens of thousands of Americans swamped constituent events across the country during a week of actions collectively known as the "Resistance Recess." One of the activists whose story caught national attention was Kati McFarland, a 25-year-old Arkansan battling chronic health conditions, whose heartfelt plea to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) helped contextualize the GOP's health care repeal agenda. Her story is now more important than ever.

    The May 4 party-line passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) means the Republican Party’s years-long crusade to “repeal and replace” Obamacare faces only one more hurdle before arriving at the president’s desk: the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. According to reporting from The Washington Post, members of the GOP caucus plan to draft and pass their own version of a health care overhaul, which may or may not reflect the disastrous principles outlined in the AHCA. An independent congressional analysis predicted the original House version would disproportionately impact poorer, older, and sicker Americans, resulting in 24 million additional uninsured adults in 10 years and an additional $337 billion in deficit spending.

    As the Senate begins deliberations over its own health care agenda, it is vital that news outlets include perspectives from the tens of millions of Americans whose lives and livelihoods may be impacted by that legislation, and share what losing access to care will mean for them.

    In February, tens of thousands of Americans flooded constituent services events around the country demanding that elected officials offer viable health care reform policies. A Media Matters analysis of cable news programming from February 18 through 26 revealed that just three of the 88 guests featured during prime-time discussions of those events were attendees affected by the outcome of the health care debate. Prime-time news programming overwhelmingly featured political reporters and pundits arguing about the optics of town halls filled with constituents demanding answers, and very little attention was paid to the residents themselves or their concerns. Kati McFarland, whose exchange with Cotton became a viral sensation, was interviewed once each by CNN and MSNBC far outside of the prime-time window that would have brought her story to millions of viewers.

    Most of the media coverage of the AHCA so far has focused on whether President Trump has finally won his first legislative victory, with reporters hyping the optics of the legislation rather than discussing the threat it represents to tens of millions of Americans. Outlets still have a chance to get the story right, and with members of the House of Representatives headed home for recess over the next week, there should be no shortage of outraged constituents willing to share their stories -- if media are willing to listen.

  • The AHCA Is Even Worse Than You've Read

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    A Media Matters study of four major newspapers’ coverage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) after it was passed by the Republican-led House found a serious lack of reporting on detrimental effects of the bill. Analysis of the coverage revealed a dearth of reporting on the AHCA’s negative impact on access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment, women’s health care, special education funding, services for the elderly, and funding for rural hospitals.