From “Doomed” To Boom: How The Press Missed The Obamacare Comeback Story

Just three weeks ago the Associated Press reported the Obama administration needed “something close to a miracle” in order to “meet its goal” of enrolling six million people into private health care plans via the Affordable Care Act before the looming April 1 deadline arrived. 

The article's premise was telling in that it focused on what the political fallout would be if Obamacare sign-ups fell short. Noticeably absent was any analysis of what an Obamacare deadline success would look like or what the political implications would be. The scenario of success simply wasn't considered plausible or worth addressing.

Of course, we now know that as many as seven million people enrolled for private coverage through the exchanges established by Obama's health care law.  Thanks to an amazing consumer surge in the month of March, the seven million mark, routinely thought of last year as completely unattainable, and often dismissed this year as not possible, was  met.

And because of a provision of the Obamacare law, approximately three million young people have been added to their parents' private insurance plans. Meaning, more than 10 million people have used Obamacare to secure health coverage. The new law, noted the Los Angeles Times, “has spurred the largest expansion in health coverage in America in half a century.” The paper reported, “At least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gotten health insurance since Obamacare started.”

Take a look at this revealing chart from and what the future of health care coverage under Obamacare might look like:

Given all of that, where's the heated coverage of the miraculous Obamacare comeback? Aside from the Times and CNNMoney pieces, I'm hard pressed to find many recent media examples that laud the health care achievement with the same unrestrained vigor that the press employed for weeks and months depicting Obamacare as an historic failure and one that could ruin Obama's presidency, and perhaps even the Democratic Party. (Remember, Obamacare "may be Obama's Katrina, Iraq War.")  

Is Obamacare now a model of government efficiency? It is not. The initial rollout, without qualification, was a failure. And lots of major hurdles still loom. But the remarkable success of the enrollment figures has clearly failed to produce the type of media response that Obamacare's remarkable failure ignited last year.

So the larger media coverage question is, has the press been wed for so long to the Republican-friendly narrative of a broken and doomed Obamacare system that journalists are refusing to adjust the storyline as crucial new facts emerge?

Some newsrooms seem to be in denial as they strain to still portray Obamacare enrollment as a failure. Today's doom-and-gloom Wall Street Journal headline: “New Technical Woes Hobble Health Sign-Ups at Zero Hour.” It wasn't until the seventh paragraph that the Journal even mentioned that Obamacare had defied the odds and reached the seven million mark. The Washington Post's front page headline likewise reads “ hiccups amid deadline-day frenzy.”

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted the “de facto blackout by major news media” on the unfolding story of the skyrocketing enrollment figures. Krugman sees the press' largely ho-hum enrollment coverage as part of a larger media treatment of Obamacare: “The website woes were, and deserved to be, a big story; the quite amazing comeback somehow doesn't fit the preferred narrative, and is being ignored.” (Just yesterday, CNN questioned whether the White House “spin” about Obamacare enrollment numbers would “stick.”)

The sign-up success only represents part of the increasingly positive story surrounding Obamacare, its implementation and how it's perceived:  

  • The percentage of uninsured Americans is down to 15.9 percent, according to Gallup.  
  • Health care costs in the United States as a share of the Gross Domestic Product dropped for the first time since 1997.
  • “The number of uninsured is expected to decrease by about 16 million after implementation of the ACA,” according to a study by CUNY and Harvard Medical School researchers.

For months though, bad news rained down on the Obamacare beat. That was aided, of course, by “a sustained assault against Obamacare mounted with the help of the donor network organized by Charles and David Koch and the array of social-welfare groups it funds,” as National Review approvingly reported this week.

With their usual party discipline, conservative voices were unified in their predictions:

“Obamacare is Doomed To Failure, And The Sooner That Happens The Sooner We Can Fix It” [Daily Caller]

“ObamaCare Is Doomed Without The Youth” [TownHall]

“ObamaCare Is Doomed” [The Other McCain]

“Why Obamacare Was Doomed To Fail From The Outset” [Fiscal Times]

What's revealing is just how certain conservatives were that Obamacare would fail, as they mocked Democrats for not acknowledging that fact.  

From National Review Online's Jim Geraghty [emphasis added]:

A key part of Democrats' discussions since October has been, “it's going to be fine, it's going to be fine, just be patient, just wait.” The house is burning down, and some people inside are insisting that the fire will burn out by itself.

And from PJ Media:

It bears repeating that the real crisis isn't whether the feds are able to get the website up and running “on time.” The real crisis is when the rush of customers -- the young, healthy ones required to make the law function -- fail to materialize in December. Or January, February, or March.

But it wasn't just far-right media voices that were eager to cement the “doomed” narrative. Columnists like Bloomberg's Megan McArdle spent more than half a year trying to bury Obamacare with columns like "Is Obamacare in a Death Spiral?" "Why Obamacare Is Like Three Mile Island," "Resolved: Obamacare Is Now Beyond Rescue," "Young Invincibles Are Killing Obamacare," and just four days ago, "Is Obamacare Now Beyond Repeal?"

That last one was quite remarkable: Nobody who's been even remotely connected to Beltway politics for the last six months (twelve months?) has believed there was any chance of Obamacare being repealed. But last week, as Obamacare enrollment numbers soared, McArdle was still raising the possibility that Congress might wipe Obamacare off the books?

It's hard to cover a topic any closer than McCardle's covered health care reform, and yet still manage to miss the story. For the rest of the press, this week could mark a turning point for Obamacare. The coverage ought to reflect that.