CNN moderators Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer should aggressively fact-check Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price during the network’s March 15 town hall, given the Trump administration’s penchant for spreading misinformation on health care. The town hall format amplifies the need for follow-up questions by the moderators who are informed enough on the issues to actively fact-check misleading claims.
CNN is holding a town hall featuring Price that “will focus on the GOP’s health care bill.” This is just one of several special events CNN has held about the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Given that the network has a new emphasis on “showcasing special events,” it is particularly important for CNN moderators to fact-check participants so these events don’t simply turn into platforms for conservatives to spread misinformation.
CNN has a unique opportunity during this town hall to hold the Trump administration accountable for the predicted effects of its proposed bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), particularly given that this is will be Price’s first prime-time cable appearance outside the friendly confines of Fox News. (Price has done the rounds on Fox, giving interviews to Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto, and Trump sycophant Sean Hannity).
Given Price’s history of pushing disastrous health care policies and the tendency for Republican politicians to push misinformation about their health care agenda during CNN’s special events, Bash and Blitzer must utilize this opportunity to ask follow-up questions and fact-check the secretary. Here are the five ways that Price is most likely to spread misinformation given his history and the Trump administration’s official positions:
1. Claiming That The CBO Report On The AHCA Is Wrong Or Biased
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reviewed the AHCA and reported that it would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million in 2018, and 24 million in 2026. A consistent theme in the conservative reaction to the CBO review revolves around attacking the credibility of the organization as a mechanism for undercutting its predictions. Price echoed these attacks, tweeting that “the CBO report defies logic” and issuing an official statement claiming that the “assumptions” of the report “do not translate to the real world.”
Despite these attacks, the CBO has a long history of making accurate predictions about health care reform legislation. Vox’s Andrew Prokop notes that the CBO’s influence derives from its “reputation as a politically neutral arbiter” and that it is viewed as “the gold standard.” In contrast to the GOP’s claims that the CBO made inaccurate predictions about the ACA, the Commonwealth Fund emphasized that the CBO was “reasonably accurate” and that its “projections were closer to realized experience than other prominent forecasters’ estimates were.” FactCheck.org’s Brooks Jackson debunked the anti-CBO talking points, illustrating that “the CBO actually nailed the overall impact of the law on the uninsured pretty closely” and “got the big picture right” on coverage estimates. Bash and Blitzer should be ready to correct attempts by Price to smear the CBO to salvage the AHCA’s chances of passage.
2. Attempting To Downplay The Fact That The AHCA Will Cause 24 Million Individuals To Lose Their Insurance By 2026
Price has consistently misled the public during interviews about the AHCA’s impact on insurance coverage. When asked by Cavuto if he thought it was “inevitable” that “some” people who gained insurance through the ACA marketplaces would lose it, Price said, “No. I just simply don’t believe that.” He went further during a Meet the Press interview, claiming that “we have a great opportunity to increase coverage over where we are right now.” His remark echoed misleading claims made by Trump about providing “insurance for everybody.”
In reality, the CBO report predicts that “in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured” and that that number would rise to “24 million in 2026.” Vox explained that the AHCA’s provision to end Medicaid expansion in 2020 “would contribute to one in five Americans being uninsured.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) emphasized that “all of the historic coverage gains expected under the ACA would disappear and the uninsured rate among the non-elderly would be at or above its 2010 levels.” The CNN moderators must be aggressive in holding Price accountable for the real impacts the proposed legislation will have on millions of Americans who are currently benefitting from Obamacare.
3. Defending His Assertion That “Nobody Will Be Worse Off Financially” Thanks To Trump’s Health Care Agenda
The AHCA would eliminate the ACA’s means-tested subsidies and replace them with age-rated refundable tax credits. During Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked, “Can you say for certain that once this bill is passed, nobody will be worse off financially when it comes to paying for health care?” Price initially ducked the question but when Todd pressed him again, he declared, “I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially.”
Despite Price’s bold claims, the CBO report shows that the AHCA will increase premiums for older, low-income Americans by “more than 750%.” Families USA noted that “lower income families could see their deductibles increase by as much as $5,500.” The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund explained that the AHCA “is a mass transfer of income” from working-class and middle-class Americans that cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans while cutting federal benefits for the middle and working class.” Bash and Blitzer should expect Price to try to spin his previous statements and must be ready to push back on any false characterizations of the AHCA’s impact on health care costs.
4. Attempting To Minimize The Impact That Defunding Planned Parenthood Would Have On Women’s Health Care
Price has a history of discounting the importance of women’s health care and has previously advocated legislation to roll back the ACA’s birth control mandate and to defund Planned Parenthood. Trump administration officials have defended the provision of the AHCA that defunds Planned Parenthood by claiming that it’s “not about denying women access to care” because they would reallocate the money to “federally qualified health care clinics.”
Experts have debunked the conservative lie that Planned Parenthood can be replaced by community health care centers, calling it a “gross misrepresentation.” A Guttmacher Institute study found that in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” with accessible contraception services. Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood in Indiana and Texas resulted in severely negative impacts on community health, contributing to HIV outbreaks. 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.” The CBO report found that “15 percent” of people in low-income communities “would lose access to care” as a result of defunding Planned Parenthood. CNN should use this town hall as an opportunity to press Price on reproductive rights generally and on the detrimental impact the GOP’s health care bill would have on women’s health care.
5. Trying To Spin The AHCA’s Severe Medicaid Cuts As Boosting State “Innovation” Or “Flexibility”
The AHCA would dramatically alter Medicaid by instituting a per capita cap on federal Medicaid spending and ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in 2020. During his interview with Cavuto, Price claimed that the AHCA would return “flexibility” to the states and allow them “the ability … to determine what is the right kind of program to care for their Medicaid population.”
While conservatives often claim Medicaid caps -- also known as “block grants” -- will increase state “flexibility,” in reality such proposals result in the loss of services and coverage for the most vulnerable. A CBPP analysis showed that a per capita cap would result in the “loss of health coverage and less access to needed health care for tens of millions of low-income Americans.” The Kaiser Family Foundation explained that federal caps could lead states to “restrict benefits” and “result in eligibility restrictions and cost shifts to beneficiaries.” Vox noted that the rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion would take “4 million to 6 million people off the rolls” and, combined with the per capita cap, would result in “a $370 billion cut to federal funding to Medicaid over 10 years.” Given the devastating impact the AHCA will have on Medicaid, Bash and Blitzer must follow up on any general assertions of increasing state innovation.