Fox & Friends allows RNC chairwoman to lie through her teeth about GOP stance on pre-existing conditions
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Some Republicans have reversed course to claim they support pre-existing conditions coverage, but have voted to repeal the whole ACA without calling for the exception
During the October 26 edition of CNN’s New Day, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin suggested that Republicans “have an argument” when they say “we want to scrap the parts” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but save other provisions like protections for those with pre-existing conditions. In reality, there is ample evidence that Republicans are happily targeting pre-existing conditions coverage.
The vast majority of congressional Republicans have spent years attempting to repeal the ACA and offering replacements that would have substantially weakened or eliminated protections barring insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has publicly stated his intention to revisit a full repeal should Republicans do well in the midterm elections. Moreover, many Republicans remain publicly supportive of a lawsuit brought by “Republican attorneys general representing 20 states” that could end pre-existing conditions coverage. The president, McConnell, and other Republican officials and candidates all support the lawsuit. Faced with overwhelming public support for the ACA’s pre-existing conditions coverage, Republicans have started lying about their party’s very recent history of favoring restricted access for those with pre-existing conditions.
On New Day, Martin suggested Republicans could argue that the narrative that they're against protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is not “fair” because Republicans in Congress had to vote against the Affordable Care Act as a whole entity, even if they supported some components of the law. However, these Republicans never expressed support for protections for people with pre-existing conditions until the midterm elections began to approach and haven't explained how they plan to repeal the ACA while protecting that provision. In reality, mandatory coverage for people with pre-existing conditions only became possible because of the ACA’s individual mandate, which conservatives rallied against for years. The individual mandate forced healthy people to purchase insurance, helping to offset costs of covering those with pre-existing conditions. Conservatives’ efforts to repeal the ACA as a whole cannot be separated from attacks on pre-existing conditions. Republicans did pitch one new bill as a way to protect coverage, but it was quickly revealed to be “a fraud.”
During his appearance on CNN, Martin gave undue benefit of the doubt to GOP claims by ignoring obvious evidence of Republicans’ antipathy toward pre-existing conditions coverage and suggesting that they might want to protect it after all:
JONATHAN MARTIN (THE NEW YORK TIMES): The challenge they have is that they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a key part of which includes those protections. Now, the Republicans will say, “Look, we want to scrap the parts of the ACA that we don't like, we will save those.” And so they have an argument there. But obviously, politics is not always fair in terms of when you sort of vote to repeal a large bill and there’s popular items therein, that isn't always specified.
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In a year when American voters list health care as one of their top concerns in the upcoming midterm elections, broadcast evening news shows have failed to air a single substantive segment about the issue. They have, however, provided breathless coverage of the newest British royal couple, continuous updates on lottery jackpots, and even segments on rapper Kanye West’s bizarre visit to the Oval Office.
Last week, Media Matters investigated coverage of health care policy and GOP-led efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and failed to find a single substantive segment on the issue. Instead, the broadcast evening news shows this year have aired 45 segments on the relationship of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a total of over one hour and 18 minutes, and that does not include special coverage of their wedding. The latest, record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot was covered in 13 segments for about 10 minutes in total. Each network also aired a segment on Kanye’s visit with President Donald Trump, which totaled six minutes. Substantive coverage of health care policy still stands at zero.
The night after our study released, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker filed a two-minutes-long news package on Nightly News that focused on the midterm elections as framed through the importance voters placed on health care. Welker’s piece did not focus on health care policy or GOP attacks on the ACA.
But her piece did give a pass to Republicans now campaigning on protections for pre-existing conditions that they not only vowed to undo but also worked to eliminate. The piece quoted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as an example of Republicans who once “railed against all aspects of Obamacare” and now want to keep “key portions like coverage for pre-existing conditions.” But Cruz has said, as recently as June, that he believes the Justice Department’s position that pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional is “reasonable” and has voiced his support of the Texas-led lawsuit against the ACA that challenges the legality of the entire law. Let’s not forget that Cruz once spoke for over 21 hours straight on the Senate floor against the ACA, and that Republicans in the House voted 54 times to repeal the ACA in the first few years after its passage.
As we approach Election Day, broadcast news shows continue to underserve their audiences of millions by failing to substantively cover this critical issue.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 23, 2018.
We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, pre-existing conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.
For other topics covered between January 1 and October 23, 2018, we searched for mentions of: “Prince Harry,” “Meghan Markle,” or the term “royal” within close proximity to “Harry,” “Meghan,” “couple,” “wedding,” or “baby” for segments on the royal couple; “Mega Millions” or “Powerball” for segments on the lotteries; and “Kanye” for segments on Kanye’s visit to the Oval Office. As with health care policy, we determined segments by whether the aforementioned terms were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts and did not include passing mentions of the aforementioned topics in the results.
In the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections, as polls show strong support among Democratic and Republican voters for the Affordable Care Act provision that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, right-wing media seem to have muted their rhetoric about the provision. Conservative media, especially Fox News, are now helping Republicans whitewash the Republican Party's sordid record of attacks against the provision. But they have their own history of smearing the pre-existing condition provision of the law, including calling it a “luxury” and “welfare.”
The nightly news shows haven’t aired a single substantive segment about health care policy this year
The flagship evening news shows on the three broadcast networks have not aired a single substantive segment on health care policy in 2018. They have ignored Republican efforts to sabotage health care policy despite voters consistently calling health care a top issue as the midterm elections approach.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is under assault, but you wouldn’t know that if you turned into ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News. The 2018 midterms are less than three weeks away, and health care has been a top issue cited in polls over and over again this year. But so far, the flagship broadcast evening news shows -- which attract millions of viewers each night -- have failed to air even one substantive segment on the GOP-led attacks on the ACA.
A key provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2017, undermined a major component of the ACA by reducing the penalty for not having health insurance to zero. Since then, Republicans and the Trump administration have made repeated efforts to sabotage health care policy in 2018. On February 26, a coalition of 20 states -- led by Republican attorneys general Ken Paxton of Texas and Brad Schimel of Wisconsin -- filed suit against the federal government claiming that the ACA was now unconstitutional since the new tax law had effectively removed the penalty for not having any insurance.
On June 7, the Trump administration declined to continue defending the ACA against the lawsuit. In a brief from the Justice Department, the administration argued that the elimination of the tax penalty for non-coverage meant that the prior Supreme Court ruling that upheld the individual mandate no longer applied. The Justice Department not only claimed that the section of the ACA regarding the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but went further by arguing that the provision protecting Americans with preexisting conditions is also unconstitutional.
Most recently, the administration has been pushing short-term, limited duration plans and “association health plans” designed to offer lower-priced coverage by skirting the protections afforded by the ACA, such as requiring insurers to cover those with preexisting conditions. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that while such plans are about one-fifth of the cost of some of the least expensive ACA-subsidized plans, they may come with greater out-of-pocket costs, yearly or lifetime coverage limits, no maternity coverage, and limited prescription drug or mental health coverage (if they had any such coverage at all).
But little of this critical information made it to viewers of the broadcast evening news shows despite health care being such an important issue for voters this election cycle. Ignoring this subject does a disservice to the American public.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 18, 2018.
We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, preexisting conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.
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As the midterm elections creep closer, Fox News has hosted a series of Republican candidates and party spokespeople eager to mislead viewers about their stances on health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. In the past eight days, Fox hosted four Republicans seeking office in November to brag about their alleged support for pre-existing condition coverage -- even though each of these candidates previously supported legislation that would make it more difficult for people with pre-existing conditions to access care. In none of those interviews did the host challenge the candidate’s claims, allowing the false information to go unchecked.
On the October 10 edition of Fox’s flagship morning show, Fox & Friends, Arizona congresswoman and Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally told the hosts that she has “voted and [is] passionate about making sure we protect people with pre-existing conditions.” However, HuffPost pointed out that McSally “voted for her party’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including regulations that block insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.” In fact, her fervor for the bill was so strong that she reportedly “stood up in GOP conference meeting and said let's get this ‘fucking thing’ done.”
Less than a week later, Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, claimed on the October 16 edition of Fox & Friends that he “would not support anything that would deny anybody [with] pre-existing conditions” coverage. But Barletta supported Republican legislation to overturn the ACA last year, even though experts note that the bill “could have driven up premiums for people with pre-existing conditions who lose their insurance” and that it “lacked any guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions would get access to affordable coverage.”
Later that day, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun said on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier that he wanted to be “crystal clear” about his stance and that he would “never be for any replacement [for the ACA] that didn't cover pre-existing conditions.” However, PolitiFact noted that Braun has repeatedly backed legislation and lawsuits that would have threatened pre-existing condition coverage. Braun supported the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, which would have made coverage for pre-existing conditions “more expensive and less accessible,” according to Urban Institute health policy analyst Linda Blumberg. Braun also endorsed a lawsuit that would “effectively end mandatory coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.”
And on the October 17 edition of America’s Newsroom, Montana’s Republican Senate nominee, Matt Rosendale, told Fox anchor Bill Hemmer that he has “really worked very hard to make sure pre-existing conditions and chronic conditions are covered.” In reality, as Montana’s state insurance commissioner, Rosendale allowed “the sale of insurance-like products that ‘do not guarantee coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.’” In fact, a program Rosendale re-authorized after it was banned in Montana due to allegations of fraud, Medi-Share, “explicitly excludes coverage for pre-existing conditions.”
In addition to these candidates, Fox has also hosted Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and President Donald Trump, who each falsely painted Republicans as champions of protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions. McDaniel said, “Of course we’re going to protect pre-existing conditions,” and Trump said, “We are 100 percent for pre-existing -- and covering people with pre-existing conditions.” But again, neither of these claims were challenged. In reality, the Trump Department of Justice has argued that protections for people with pre-existing conditions should be abandoned, and a recent Republican bill that was pitched as a way to protect coverage for pre-existing conditions was quickly revealed to be “a fraud.”
Faced with overwhelming public support for the ACA’s pre-existing conditions coverage, Republicans have been forced to lie about their party’s very recent history of favoring restricted access for those with pre-existing conditions. Fox News has served as a willing partner to spread these falsehoods.
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Fox News did not mention that Matt Rosendale reauthorized a program, previously banned for fraud, that excluded coverage for pre-existing conditions
Montana’s Republican Senate nominee and state insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale told Fox anchor Bill Hemmer that he has “really worked very hard to make sure pre-existing conditions and chronic conditions are covered.”
But as Montana newspapers have detailed, Rosendale supports repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which guarantees coverage for pre-existing conditions. Furthermore, in his role as insurance Commissioner Rosendale even authorized the sale of insurance-like products that “do not guarantee coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.”
Instead of giving his viewers these facts, Hemmer offered only a weak rebuttal, citing a brief quote from Rosendale’s opponent, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT): “He’s arguing that you’re putting pre-existing conditions at risk.”
From the October 17 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
BILL HEMMER (HOST): Matt Rosendale is my guest now in Montana. ... I did a lot of reading trying to figure out what the issues are. Health care keeps coming up time and again. Is that what decides this race in Montana?
MATT ROSENDALE (MONTANA GOP SENATE CANDIDATE): Health care is one of the real big factors here, Bill. Jon Tester is the fella who brought us Obamacare, and my work in the auditor's office has shown that I have really worked very hard to make sure pre-existing conditions and chronic conditions are covered, and make sure people of Montana have a broad range of health care options to accommodate --
HEMMER: Because he is arguing that you are putting pre-existing conditions at risk. This is the one thing you guys agree on, is that you both believe health care costs are going higher and there has to be a solution to it, but you differ on what the solution is.
ROSENDALE: Absolutely. The problem is he brought us Obamacare, which is what is driving the costs up, Bill.
HEMMER: Based on his vote for the ACA.
ROSENDALE: I've been working for quite some time now to make sure that the people of Montana have a broad range of options to make sure they can accommodate their health care needs in a way that recognizes their budget, their personal needs, and their personal choices as well.
Montana news coverage shows how misleading and insufficient this Fox segment is. Rosendale has introduced and supported insurance-like schemes that do not cover pre-existing conditions. Specifically, Rosendale re-authorized Medi-Share, a program that was banned for “fraudulent practices” for refusing to pay for the health care of a Montana man who had cancer. In another instance, Medi-Share refused to pay for the treatment of a Montana pastor until a court ordered otherwise.
Here is an article from the Helena, MT-based Independent Record (emphasis added):
In his role as state Auditor, which oversees the insurance industry in Montana, Rosendale has brought in primary care agreements that allow people to enter into direct contracts with primary care providers outside of the health insurance framework.
He’s also advocated for the short-term plans, the ones Tester calls “junk plans,” and allowed a religious health care sharing ministry to return to operating in the state after it was banned in 2007.
“People have a multitude of options to take care of their needs in a way that recognizes their budget, their specific health care needs and their personal choices,” Rosendale said.
The primary care agreements were twice vetoed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, who said they did not provide value to consumers and often charged for treatments already covered by insurance.
Medi-Share, the health ministry that is operating in Montana, was banned in 2007 because of fraudulent practices after it did not pay a claim for a Montana man who had cancer. Both products are not regulated by the auditor's office because they are not traditional insurance.
Medi-Share and the short-term insurance plans do not guarantee coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, one of the landmark protections in the Affordable Care Act.
Here’s how this works: To join the pyramid you must must pledge your devout Christian faith (and even get a reference from a minister). You must not drink, take drugs or have sex outside of a “traditional” marriage. Pre-existing conditions make you ineligible to participate at all, although one does get the benefit of a “prayer chain.”
The coverage doesn’t include products of “un-Biblical lifestyles,” such as contraception or substance use rehabilitation–or preventive care like PAP tests, colonoscopies and mammograms.
Usually, bill-sharing plan members contribute a predetermined amount each month. When they have a medical bill, they receive monetary help from fellow members. All of the programs are careful to bury in the fine print that they not promising to pay bills, only “facilitating a voluntary sharing.” Some of these schemes even publish your medical problems in a newsletter to “share” your bill with the community in case anyone wants to chip in–so much for medical privacy.
The pro-ACA advocacy organization Protect Our Care provided additional details about how Rosendale’s policies could leave Montana residents without coverage for pre-existing conditions.
For some misguided reason, USA Today published an op-ed -- supposedly written by President Donald Trump -- attacking a proposed “Medicare for All” plan cosponsored by a number of Senate Democrats. The piece is a collection of baldfaced lies and distorted facts which do not hold up to even the slightest scrutiny.
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In areas like health care and sick leave, systems are failing Americans -- and the obsession with uplifting stories optimized for social media is obscuring it.
If you spend any amount of time on social media, you’re probably familiar with mega-viral uplifting stories like “A teacher battling cancer ran out of sick days. School employees showered him with theirs,” “Birmingham college student walked 20 miles to 1st day of work so his boss gave him his car,” “Vietnam vet named 'Smiley' gets new teeth after living toothless for 40 years,” and “Little girl desperate to save mom’s life after cancer diagnosis opens lemonade stand.”
These four examples all come from just the past five months, but there are countless additional articles and segments that share the same lessons about never giving up, going the extra mile, and taking care of others. The articles are framed to make you feel good, to illustrate the kindness of others, to show you that things can work out when tragedy hits, and yes, to “restore your faith in humanity.” These are excellent messages that we could probably all benefit from having in our lives, but there’s one thing that gets left out on an all-too-regular basis: the underlying causes.
If the United States followed the lead of other well-off countries, paid sick leave would eliminate the need for co-workers to donate their sick days; if workers were paid a living wage and we invested in public transportation, no one would have to walk 20 miles to work; if we fulfilled the promises made to our veterans, none of them would go 40 years without teeth; if we treated health care as a right, no child would feel a responsibility to sell enough lemonade to keep their mother alive. Each story could be just as easily framed in a way meant to disgust us with the state of the social safety net and inspire us to enact policies that prevent such situations from happening. Instead, the authors tend to isolate each situation from its larger context.
In 2017, writer Adam Johnson coined the term “perseverance porn” to refer to uplifting stories centered around people overcoming long odds and societal roadblocks on the path to happy endings. It makes for an apt name considering how these stories fetishize bootstrapping one's way out of trouble.
Part of what makes perseverance porn so effective, at least when it comes to getting our attention, is that it tends to follow a storytelling structure sometimes known as the “dramatic arc” -- consisting of, in the Florida teacher’s story, an introduction (meet this teacher), a rising action (he was diagnosed with cancer), the climax (he realized he doesn’t have enough sick days), a falling action (he posted a selfie calling for help), and a resolution (within four days other teachers had donated enough days to cover his needs). In these dramatic-arc pieces, we see the happy ending, or are at least left with the impression that there will be one. This is the same time-tested technique, sometimes also referred to as the “hero’s journey,” used in fiction from The Odyssey to Star Wars. (In this case, CNN did publish a follow-up story making similar arguments about the original piece as are being made here, but it was an opinion piece and not the straight-reported version originally published.)
The problem with these stories is that they routinely gloss over harsh realities in order to fit this structure. They lead us to believe that these situations have a way of working themselves out. In fact, many (if not most) people facing these challenges — whether it’s the majority of people whose medical crowdfunding campaigns don’t reach the goal, or it’s someone who dies because they can’t afford their cancer treatment or their insulin — don’t get the the help they need, and things do not magically work themselves out. But these stories buoy the conservative argument that aspects of the social safety net should be trimmed back or abolished altogether in favor of private charity.
During his run for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, Ron Paul famously responded to a question about what responsibility the government should have for an uninsured person facing a long-term medical emergency such as a coma by saying that such a person should “assume responsibility for himself.” When pressed, he suggested that churches, neighbors, or friends would take care of it. In practice, we can see that this just isn’t the case.
Last year, artist Shane Patrick Boyle lost his health benefits after moving from Texas to Arkansas to care for his dying mother. A Type I diabetic, he simply didn’t have the $750 he needed to buy a month’s supply of insulin, so he did what more than 250,000 people do each year: He launched a GoFundMe campaign. Unlike the stories the news media tends to highlight, his doesn’t have a happy ending. He came up $50 short, and less than a month later, he was dead.
Boyle’s story is one of a failed system and the limits of relying on charity to fund health expenses, but it wasn’t until eight months after his death, when The Nation mentioned him in a story and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shared the article on Facebook, that it gained much traction in the national press. It could be that stories like Boyle’s just don’t generate as much traffic or attention as the ones about a neighborhood coming together to help raise money for someone’s cancer treatment. But in my view, writers shy away from reporting these stories partially out of fear of being labeled political.
Consider the time Jimmy Kimmel used his late-night platform to talk about his newborn son’s health woes. The story contained all the elements of the dramatic arc -- his wife gave birth, his son was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, he had surgery to fix one of the defects, and the family lives happily ever after. It also took aim at an underlying issue: Kimmel acknowledged that people who aren’t millionaire talk show hosts might not have been able to afford the care his son needed. He discussed why protections banning insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition are so important to so many, and he made an argument against passing legislation that would gut those rights.
Several right-leaning media outlets slammed Kimmel’s segment. The Washington Times’ Charles Hurt told Kimmel to “shut your fat trap about partisan politics and go care for your kid, who just nearly died, you elitist creep.” Conservative host Michelle Malkin dismissed Kimmel’s plea, writing, “I feel your pain. But please use your brain.” The Daily Caller polled its readers as to whether it was appropriate for Kimmel to use “emotional coercion for political purposes.”
Yes, Kimmel’s monologue was political, but so is perseverance porn. When journalists leave out details about why people find themselves in desperate situations, or how many people in those positions don’t end up getting the help they need, they’re reinforcing a long-running conservative narrative in support of privatizing the social safety net. More detailed versions of these stories complete with uncomfortable facts about human suffering in the U.S. might not click as well or share as reliably on social media as the current crop of content does, but they would be a lot more honest.
The world needs positivity, and the people involved in these stories deserve all the praise they can get. But positivity without honesty can blind us to the reality of everyday life and build up a distorted understanding of the country’s problems.