The open-enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov will end in less than two weeks on December 15, but if you rely on TV news you may not even know that the enrollment period began November 1. The three major cable news networks and the three broadcast news networks together have given the open-enrollment period embarrassingly scant coverage in the last two months -- a meager 16 1/2 minutes in total from October 3 to December 3, according to a Media Matters review.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this very limited reporting is where it did show up: Fox News covered the open-enrollment period the most, with almost 14 minutes total. It was also the only network to host discussion-based segments framed around the enrollment. (A November 1 discussion on Fox’s Outnumbered Overtime with Fox News medical correspondent Marc Siegel and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) touched on various aspects of the ACA, and another discussion on November 30’s Fox & Friends First with Nan Hayworth of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum focused on lower enrollment numbers for 2019.)
- In a roughly two-month period, cable and broadcast news networks provided just 16 1/2 minutes of coverage of the ACA enrollment period.
- CNN and MSNBC mentioned the open-enrollment period for less than two minutes combined.
- ABC and NBC failed to cover the enrollment period, and CBS devoted just about one minute.
That Fox provided the most coverage of the enrollment period is troubling on its own; the network has a history of providing misleading and outright false coverage of the ACA as a part of a larger effort by right-wing media to discredit the health care law. Recently, the network allowed Republican politicians to lie about their positions on insurance coverage protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, misled in its coverage of President Donald Trump’s administration ending subsidies that make health care plans on the exchanges affordable, and aired misleading charts about enrollment numbers. Not to mention the network’s record of airing misleading human interest stories, false narratives, and unending refrains that the ACA is “failing.”
In addition to the two segments featuring longer discussions of the ACA, Fox also ran three news briefs on November 1 announcing the open-enrollment period. CBS ran two news briefs announcing the enrollment period that same day, which amounted to roughly one minute of airtime.
No other network aired a segment about the enrollment period. CNN and MSNBC only mentioned the enrollment period in passing for less than one minute each, while ABC and NBC did not mention it at all. No cable news or broadcast news network aired an advance announcement of the enrollment period; all coverage in the 29 days before the November 1 enrollment start date was mere passing mentions amounting to about one and a half minutes.
In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll, only 24 percent of non-group enrollees ages 18-64 (those who are uninsured or who purchase their own individual insurance) knew about the December 15 deadline for open enrollment. The percentage of non-group enrollees who did not know about the deadline at all increased from 53 percent in October 2017 to 61 percent last month.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has shortened the open-enrollment period by half, from 12 weeks to six. Previously, enrollment was open from November 1 to January 31, but bowing to pressure from health insurers, Trump set a cutoff of December 15.
This smaller sign-up window is not the only assault on enrollment numbers. The Trump administration has also scheduled 60 hours of downtime for the HealthCare.gov website for scheduled maintenance every Sunday from midnight to noon during the enrolment period (except for the last Sunday), has reduced funding for enrollment groups that work to sign up Americans in states that don’t run their own exchanges by as much as 92 percent, and has slashed funding for its advertising by 90 percent.
As a result of these Trump administration policies, advocates predicted a decline in enrollment in the health care exchanges. Sign-ups for 2018 were down to 11.8 million from 12.2 million the year before, and sign-ups for this enrollment period are on track to be even lower.
Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for mentions of “enrollment” within close proximity of “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “health care,” “healthcare,” “Obama care,” or “Obamacare” from October 3 (the earliest transcripts were still available) to December 3, 2018, on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from 4 a.m. through midnight and on ABC’s, CBS’, and NBC’s early morning shows, morning shows, evening shows, and Sunday morning political talk shows.
We timed and coded any passing mention, teaser, news brief, or news segment mentioning or discussing the open-enrollment period. For passing mentions, we only timed the relevant speech. For teasers and segments, we timed them in their entirety.