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.