Sinclair “must run” segment lets Trump official mislead about health care coverage

Conservative local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group’s chief political analyst, former President Donald Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, has begun interviewing administration officials for his “must-run” commentary segments airing on local newscasts across the country. In his latest interview, with Small Business Administration (SBA) head Linda McMahon, Epshteyn allowed McMahon to paint the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a burden to small businesses. McMahon claimed that “the health care plan that exists just has really had an incredible, devastating effect on small businesses” and that, before the ACA, “employees had a pretty good plan, a reasonable plan. Now they have nothing.”

In fact, more than 95 percent of businesses don’t face a health insurance mandate under the ACA, and the law also offers generous tax credits to help small businesses that don’t have an insurance requirement provide health insurance to their employees regardless. Also contrary to McMahon’s claims, a disproportionate share of uninsured workers prior to the ACA’s enactment were small-business owners and their employees; the year the ACA was enacted, one in five people who enrolled in ACA plans were small-business owners, self-employed, or both.

Epshteyn failed to challenge McMahon with any of these facts in his interview, or to note that the GOP’s recent efforts to destabilize the ACA have already hurt small businesses. Rather than inform the public, Epshteyn’s interview allowed a Trump administration official to push flawed, unchallenged talking points disguised as straight news -- more evidence that these mandated local news segments are basically Trump TV.

The exchange, as aired by Sinclair-operated Charleston, WV, station WVAH on its September 19 edition of Eyewitness News at 10:

Video file

KALLIE CART (CO-HOST): The Senate is preparing to take another vote on health care reform before the end of September.

RICK LORD (CO-HOST): Our chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign senior adviser and White House official, sat down with the administrator of the Small Business Administration to discuss what concerns small businesses might have had with the Affordable Care Act and what reforms they hope to see.

BORIS EPSHTEYN: Congress hasn't been able to pass a health care bill and get it to the president. What are you hearing from small businesses in terms of their view? Do they want health care to be reformed? Do they want Obamacare to be repealed and replaced?

LINDA MCMAHON: They absolutely want health care reform and again, it's down to cost. I talked to small-business owners and they all want to provide health care for their employees. Many of them had good plans in place before Obamacare came into law, became the law. And they were mandated to change the policy that they had because it wasn't as good as, if you will, the Obama plan. So a lot of small businesses had to do that. It cost them a lot more. Then what happened was they stopped covering some of the employees if they had the opportunity, if they were less than 50 employees. They just stopped covering. So employees had a pretty good plan, a reasonable plan. Now they have nothing. Other companies have just bitten the bullet, and they're paying the higher cost when they can. Other companies are downsizing so they don't go over that number 50. So the health care plan that exists just has really had an incredible, devastating effect on small businesses.

EPSHTEYN: And are you optimistic that some sort of health care reform will get done? Sooner or later, will Congress gets its act together?

MCMAHON: I believe it will. The president really campaigned on health care reform, tax reform, regulatory reform. And he's worked really hard already on regulatory reform. We've seen a lot of those regulations rolled back. Health care, we didn't get the vote we wanted first time around. But he's not letting up. We're going to continue to push for health care reform.