Last week, in a move that could further gut the Affordable Care Act and threaten the health insurance of 130 million people, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would not defend the provisions of the law that protect consumers with pre-existing conditions. Cable news barely took notice.
On June 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DOJ would stop defending in court a key provision of Obamacare that protects consumers with pre-existing conditions. This could be a life-or-death decision for such individuals, as it could allow insurers to once again deny them coverage because of their medical condition or history.
A recent poll found that health care was a top issue for voters, and the pre-existing condition provision is the most popular provision of the law. Despite these facts, as well as the severity of the potential consequences, the unprecedented nature of the DOJ’s decision not to defend a federal law, and the fact that this is a reversal from past Trump statements, cable news spent hardly any time discussing the decision and the implications it could have for nearly 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. From the time of Sessions’ June 7 announcement through June 11, CNN spent just 10 minutes discussing the decision. MSNBC fared slightly better, spending 19 minutes on the decision, and Fox News discussed it the most, devoting 25 minutes to the news that the Department of Justice wouldn’t defend coverage of pre-existing conditions protections. Additionally, not a single Sunday political news show mentioned the DOJ's decision or the consequences that would result from it.
The quality of the coverage oftentimes varied. Most often, the coverage failed to offer substance, focusing more on the political ramifications than the effects on vulnerable people. But occasionally segments touched on the consequences this would have on millions of Americans. On MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes panelist Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor, noted, “There are about 130 million people in this country who have pre-existing conditions. And if they don't get insurance through their jobs, and they don't get insurance through Medicare or Medicaid, if the Affordable Care Act goes away, they're going to be out of luck. This is a very high-stakes debate.”
On MTP Daily, Katy Tur noted that it was off-putting to be discussing something that affects so many people through a political lens: “These are people and it is their lives. And I think it is just so weird, and kind of sad, that we talk about it as, ‘Well, here’s where the politics are, and this is them trying to want to put the stake in Obamacare.’ These are people’s lives!”
Tur is on point with her dismay over the way health care is discussed in the media, but what’s even sadder is that cable news just doesn’t seem to care enough to cover the issue in depth at all, let alone in a manner that matters.
Methodology: Media Matters searched CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC on SnapStream for mentions of “Affordable Care Act,” “Obamacare,” “Obama care,” “healthcare,” “health care,” and “pre-existing” from June 7 through June 11 between 4 a.m. and midnight. Reruns were excluded.