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.
The House Passed The American Health Care Act
Vox: The House Passed The American Health Care Act Which Will Leave “Millions Fewer People With Health Insurance.” Vox’s Sarah Kliff reported on the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), describing it as “a bill that would greatly reduce funding for Obamacare’s coverage programs, leaving millions fewer people with health insurance.” She noted that if the AHCA becomes law “the American health insurance system will prioritize the needs of young and healthy people more, and sicker people less.” From the May 5 article:
House Republicans have passed the American Health Care Act, a bill that would greatly reduce funding for Obamacare’s coverage programs, leaving millions fewer people with health insurance.
The bill would dramatically remake the American health care system, changing who can afford coverage in the individual market — and who will be left uninsured. It also revealed new fault lines in the Republican Congress, showing who had the power to shift the bill’s priorities and who yielded little influence.
If the bill makes it through the Senate and becomes law, Republicans will have achieved a campaign promise they’ve been making for the past seven years. Millions of Americans will lose health insurance altogether, according to CBO estimates based on an earlier version of the bill. Taxes will drop for the wealthiest Americans. And for those still buying individual plans, the American health insurance system will prioritize the needs of young and healthy people more, and sicker people less. [Vox, 5/5/17]
Analysis Of Immediate AHCA Coverage Found A Failure To Report On Many Key Impacts
Newspapers Largely Failed To Substantively Report On AHCA’s Impact On Mental Health Care And Substance Abuse Treatment
The AHCA Could Gut Access To Mental Health Services And Substance Abuse Treatment. The AHCA’s waivers to allow states to opt out of the essential health benefits package and remove protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions could devastate access to vital health care services like mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Furthermore, the drastic cuts to Medicaid that AHCA would enact will roll back much of the gains made in fighting the opioid epidemic and cut off vulnerable populations from access to care. [Families USA, 5/2017; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/24/17, 3/24/17; Media Matters, 3/16/17]
Papers Mentioned The Impact On Access To Mental Health Care Once. Out of 24 total articles Media Matters reviewed in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, only one mentioned the negative impact the AHCA will have on access to mental health care.
Papers Mentioned The Impact On Access To Substance Abuse Treatment And The Opioid Epidemic Five Times. The four major newspapers mentioned the impact of the AHCA on people’s ability to access substance abuse treatment in the fight against the opioid epidemic five times in 24 articles. However, rather than independently reporting on the issues, the majority of these mentions were a quote from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) expressing his concerns about the potential that the bill’s Medicaid cuts would restrict access to substance abuse treatments.
Newspapers Devoted Scant Coverage To The AHCA’s Gutting Of Women’s Health Care
AHCA’s Provision To Defund Planned Parenthood Would Cause “15 Percent” Of People In Low-Income Communities To Lose Access To Care Nationally. Planned Parenthood is a critical provider of essential health care services, particularly in rural and low-income communities. The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis of the AHCA found that nationwide 15 percent of people in low-income communities “would lose access to care” as a result of provisions defunding Planned Parenthood. A Guttmacher Institute study found that in 103 U.S. counties (including nine in North Carolina), Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” with accessible contraception services. The Washington Post reported that defunding Planned Parenthood “would leave many women without services to help them avoid pregnancy, resulting in thousands of additional births.” [Congressional Budget Office, 3/13/17; Guttmacher Institute, 8/14/15; The Washington Post, 3/14/17]
Papers Mentioned The Negative Impacts On Women’s Health Care Four Times. The four major newspapers Media Matters reviewed mentioned the damaging impact the AHCA will have on women’s health care four times in 24 articles.
Newspapers Gave Scant Coverage To Skyrocketing Costs For Seniors Under The AHCA
The AHCA Will Dramatically Increase Costs And Reduce Coverage For Seniors. The AHCA raises age band ratings, allowing insurers to charge seniors fives times as much as younger individuals. Families USA noted that under the AHCA, premiums for older adults “would be 15-20% higher than under current law.” Vox explained that the CBO report found that a 64-year-old making $26,500 would see “more than a 750 percent increase in premiums” or more than half his or her annual income. [Families USA, 3/14/17; Congressional Budget Office, 3/13/17; Vox 3/13/17]
Only Four Articles Addressed The AHCA’s Negative Impact On Seniors. Only four of the 24 articles included in this study addressed the impact the AHCA will have on costs and coverage for the elderly.
Newspapers Failed To Report On The AHCA’s Detrimental Impact On Rural Hospitals
The AHCA’s Repeal Of The Medicaid Expansion Would Disproportionately Hurt Rural Hospitals, Gutting Rural Access To Health Care. Studies have shown that the Medicaid expansion dramatically helped rural hospitals that predominantly serve low-income communities expand access to care. Repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the AHCA’s massive Medicaid cuts will likely cause many rural hospitals to close. [Kaiser Health News, 9/7/16; Urban Institute, 4/16/15; Bridge Magazine, 3/28/17]
No Newspaper Addressed The AHCA’s Detrimental Impact On Rural Hospitals. None of the 24 articles about the AHCA in the major newspapers Media Matters analyzed addressed the impact the proposed law would have on rural hospitals.
Newspapers Devoted Little Space To Coverage On The Impact On Special Education
The AHCA’s Medicaid Cuts Will Devastate Special Education Programs. The AHCA freezes the Medicaid expansion implemented by the Affordable Care Act and shifts its funding structure into a block grant, which will result in draconian funding cuts. Medicaid is a vital source of funding for special education programs and other educational services. A survey of school leaders conducted by the American Association of School Administrators found that “two-thirds of respondents indicated they use the Medicaid funds to pay the salaries of health professionals who provide services.” Education groups predict that the funding cuts will “compel states to ration health care for children.” [Education Week, 5/4/17; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/18/17; American Association of School Administrators, Jan 2017]
One Article Addressed The AHCA’s Impact On Special Education. Of the newspapers surveyed, only one article in The New York Times reported on the negative impact the AHCA will have on funding for special education programs.
Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for articles published on May 4 and May 5 in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times for any mention of “health care,” “Affordable Care Act,” “American Health Care Act,” and “Obamacare.” The analysis did not include editorials. Articles that primarily focused on the American Health Care Act were included for analysis. Mentions of the AHCA’s potential impact on Medicaid, taxes, women’s health care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, seniors and special education programs were tallied in their own categories.