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Both local and national media have largely failed to cover recent proposals by Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance providers to increase premiums in Maryland and Virginia, and media have all but ignored the connection between Republican efforts to weaken the ACA and increasing health care costs.
On May 4, two of Virginia’s ACA health insurance providers requested that state officials approve significant premium increases in 2019. Cigna and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield both proposed average premium hikes that are in the double digits. They were joined days later by several other Virginia insurers and both of Maryland’s providers, Kaiser and CareFirst, the latter of which requested a 91 percent rate increase for members on its PPO plan.
These increases are not unexpected; many organizations, as well as the Congressional Budget Office, predicted that insurance rates would skyrocket if the Trump administration and the Republican-held Congress eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate, which required people to have health insurance or pay a penalty. On December 22, President Donald Trump signed the Republican tax bill into law, officially repealing the individual mandate and ensuring a rise in insurance premiums. Both Cigna and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield have already blamed the termination of the mandate for their soaring rates.
Without the individual mandate, people are more likely to withdraw from the market, meaning that cost sharing is spread among fewer people, and, as a result, the burden increases for everyone. Additionally, young and healthy people are the most likely to forego purchasing health insurance, leaving the market saturated with older and unhealthy people who require more medical attention, which pushes premiums up. Trump’s former Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, admitted as much during a May 1 speech at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, where he said that repealing the mandate would lead to “younger and healthier” people exiting the exchanges and “consequently, that drives up the cost.”
Four major TV news stations in the Baltimore media market mentioned premium increases a combined four times in evening weekday coverage. Two stations didn't mention them at all. Between May 7 and May 14, rising premiums were mentioned four times among the four major local TV news stations during their weekday evening news coverage*; only one network noted the role of Republican health care reform in proposed premium increases:
Three major Maryland newspapers ran a total of just two articles that mentioned rate increases. Since Maryland insurers requested double-digit premium hikes on May 7, only two of three major print newspapers have printed a report on it:
The Baltimore Sun ran one article about the proposed soaring premiums between May 7 and May 14. The article accurately pointed out the connection between the proposed increases and the individual mandate repeal.
Four major TV news stations in Virginia’s largest media market mentioned premium increases a combined three times in evening weekday coverage. Two stations didn't mention them at all. Of the four stations carrying local news in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, only two discussed potential premium increases between May 4 and May 14:
Three major Virginia newspapers ran a combined five articles about the proposed premium hikes, but mostly excluded important context about the GOP sabotage effort. Between May 4 -- when several Virginia insurers first requested premium hikes -- and May 14, three major Virginia newspapers ran five articles that mentioned potential rate increases:
The looming premium hikes were mentioned a total of six times on all evening national cable news outlets. From May 4 to May 14, the requested premium increases were mentioned twice on Fox News, twice on CNN, and twice on MSNBC. In almost every instance, the premium increases were brought up in the context of Democratic messaging for the 2018 midterm elections, and none of the discussions mentioned specific examples of where or by how much premiums could potentially rise. During a May 5 interview with Tom Price, the former health and human services secretary attempted to clarify his statement from May 1 in which he acknowledged that ending the individual mandate will lead to higher premiums if other reforms are not implemented; this was the only segment that tied the increases to the GOP-led health care reform effort.
Of the three national broadcast evening news programs, only one mentioned the expected rise in premiums. CBS Evening News was the only national broadcast evening news program to mention the premium increases; the brief mention failed to explain the role of the Republican individual mandate repeal in rising premiums. The other two broadcast evening news programs, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, did not report on the news.
Only one major U.S. newspapers mentioned the premium increases. The Washington Post was the only major newspaper to discuss the premium hikes in a news article. The paper published two articles that referred to the proposed premium hikes. The New York Times published one opinion piece about the proposed increases and tied the change to the GOP’s individual mandate repeal. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the New York Post, and Chicago Tribune have not reported on the proposals in their print editions.
In the past, media outlets have often left audiences in the dark over the negative effects of the Republican health care push. And while local media outlets have covered this issue better than national outlets, so far, the reporting on potentially increasing premiums from Virginia and Maryland outlets has been lackluster. As insurance companies continue to propose higher premiums across the country, national and local media outlets must do a better job preparing their audiences for the upcoming changes to their health care.
Using Nexis, Media Matters searched three widely circulated Virginia-based print newspapers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian Pilot, and The Roanoke Times, from May 4 to May 14 and reviewed relevant articles that included variations of the terms "premium," "rate," "insurance," "health," or "coverage," and "increase," "change," "go up," "rise," or "jump.". The same search was used to search widely circulated Maryland-based newspapers, The Baltimore Sun, Annapolis’ The Capital, and The Salisbury Daily Times, from May 7 to May 14. The search was replicated for major national print outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the New York Post, and the Chicago Tribune between May 4 and May 14. The database Factiva was used to search for relevant articles from The Wall Street Journal during the same time frame with the search terms “health care,” and “premium.” Articles that only appeared online were not included.
Using iQ Media, Media Matters searched Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, the largest local news market in Virginia, between May 4 and May 14 and relevant transcripts that included some variation of the terms "health care," "healthcare," "premium," or "insurance" on local CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC stations. The same search was conducted in Maryland’s largest news market, Baltimore County, between May 7 and May 14. Weekend coverage was not counted.
Media Matters searched Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC for “health care” or “premium” using SnapStream between the dates of May 4 and May 14 and reviewed all relevant mentions of the expected premium hikes. Mentions were included only if they addressed rising premiums specifically.
*Each local station varies in its news programming depending on the network and market. For this reason, the number of times the premium rises were mentioned was presented as a proportion of the individual station’s total evening news programming per week.
On February 14, Washington Post health care reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham garnered significant attention for tweeting that it was “super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration” when “personal events determine [her] quality of life; not who’s in the [White House].” Beyond this insensitive tweet, Winfield Cunningham also has a history of spreading right-wing misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in her reporting.
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In an attempt to defend the Republican tax bill, Fox & Friends hosts purported to debunk “myths” about the proposal, but actually just pushed a number of falsehoods and misleading statements themselves. For the segment, they hosted Rosemary Becchi, a tax attorney and lobbyist who previously worked as the Republican tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee.
Claimed the plan won’t add $1 trillion to the deficit just one day after congressional committee found that it would. Becchi asserted that it was “completely false” that the bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit. Co-host Brian Kilmeade cited so-called “dynamic scoring” to allege that the bill could “actually reduce the deficit.” But, according to The New York Times, an estimate from Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) found that “the legislation would add $1 trillion to federal budget deficits over a decade, even after accounting for economic growth” through dynamic scoring.
Falsely claimed the plan won’t hike taxes on middle-income people. Becchi also insisted that the tax bill would cut taxes “at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.” But, according to The Washington Post, the JCT estimated that the bill would “give large tax cuts to the rich while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade.” Additionally, The New York Times found that “two-thirds of middle-class households would get a tax increase in 2027, and none — zero percent — would get a tax cut.”
Whitewashed the harm the plan will do to Americans’ health care. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked Becchi whether a potential “health care tax hike” under the proposed law will happen, which Becchi dismissed. Becchi correctly noted that the proposal includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, which would not lead to a tax hike. But Becchi and the hosts did not explain that as a result of repealing the mandate, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated, 13 million more people would lose their insurance and premiums would rise by about 10 percent in the ACA’s individual market.
Admitted that tax cuts will help the rich the most while claiming to be “debunking” the “myth” that tax cuts help the rich most. When asked about the impact the bill would have on the wealthiest Americans, Becchi noted that “these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers,” but suggested that that was just because “most wealthy Americans pay the most taxes in this country.” This is a drastic understatement; based on the initial framework of the Republican tax bills, the Tax Policy Center found that “about 80 percent of the total benefit would accrue to taxpayers in the top 1 percent, whose after-tax income would increase 8.7 percent.”
From the December 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): First off, we hear about the deficit, and we hear that it’s going to add $1 trillion dollars to the deficit.
ROSEMARY BECCHI: And that's just completely false. There’s so much in this bill that will generate an economic growth. And that economic growth will put us on a path to fiscal responsibility. So, there’s a lot to be in this bill for everybody.
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): OK, to chew on, and that's why we are looking at it, we just heard from [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [(D-CA)]. She called it a “scam.” What about the fact that so many Democrats, Rosemary, have said it's going to be a tax hike on the middle class?
BECCHI: And that's just not true. This bill will give benefits to both the low-, middle-, and high-income earners. It provides tax cuts straight across the board.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): She also said health care tax hike. Is that going to happen?
BECCHI: No. Not at all. What the bill includes is the repeal of the [individual] mandate. And if you recall, the mandate is simply a penalty for not purchasing health care. All it does is eliminate that penalty. That's not a tax.
EARHARDT: So it saves people money if they don't want to do it.
BECCHI: Exactly, exactly.
KILMEADE: Right. And disproportionately it hurts people who make $50,000 and less, because they’re the ones who have to make the decision, do I have to pay the fine on the mandate for health care, or I do actually buy a plan --
KILMEADE: -- which, sadly, the Obamacare plans are not what they promised -- the high premiums, high deductibles. Therefore, these people are in a conundrum. This would help them.
BECCHI: That's absolutely correct.
KILMEADE: Moving on to what I said before about the deficit. It would add $1 trillion to the deficit, if you don't put a -- factor in the fact that the economy is supposed to grow, bringing in additional revenue called dynamic scoring. If you feel as though the economy is going to stay the same, it would blow a hole. But if you’re betting that it’s going to grow, it would actually reduce the deficit.
BECCHI: Right, that’s right. This bill will put more money into the pockets of both Americans, as well as businesses. And people will reinvest that money. And as a result of that reinvestment, we will have economic growth. And economic growth will generate more taxes.
EARHARDT: Now what about the wealthy? Because when the president was running he said I'm going to decrease taxes for everybody. He said in a press conference yesterday or the day before that he -- he said I'm going to pay the penalty. I'm going to pay more in taxes because I'm one of the wealthy.
BECCHI: Right. Most Americans, most wealthy Americans, pay the most taxes in this country.
EARHARDT: That's the way it is now, right?
BECCHI: Exactly. That's the way it is. So, as a result, these tax cuts will disproportionately help upper-income taxpayers. And that's just the reality. But, what this tax bill does, it cuts at all levels. It cuts at the high-income earners, as well as middle- and low-class taxpayers, as well.
A Media Matters analysis found that key provisions of the tax bill put forth by Senate Republicans were all but omitted from local media coverage of the plan in Portland, ME; Phoenix, AZ; Madison, WI; Anchorage, AK; and Nashville, TN. Additionally, while local media widely reported that the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, they neglected to note that doing so would raise premiums and increase the number of uninsured people. Stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative media conglomerate friendly to the Trump administration, also were worse than other stations in reporting on these important aspects of the bill.
Ending the policy would cause premiums to increase and millions to lose insurance
A tweet from President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to include a provision in the latest so-called "tax reform" proposal to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate, a policy that stipulates that all citizens must have health insurance or pay a small tax penalty. This proposal has been floating around right-wing media recently, despite the disastrous consequences it would have.
In an apparent reference to the ACA’s individual mandate, Trump tweeted a message on November 13 urging lawmakers to consider “ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further” as part of the impending Republican plan to rewrite the tax code.
Some in right-wing media have made the same suggestion in recent weeks. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote in a November 12 piece that “the best move for tax and health-care reform is to include the mandate repeal.” Earlier, on November 6, Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt called on Republicans to “kill off the mandate and advance tax reform at the same time.” Fox contributor Marc Siegel wrote in a November 9 op-ed, “It is time to kick the mandate leg off the stool and let it collapse under the weight of its over-bloated, one-size-fits-all insurance policies.” And Jay Caruso of the Dallas Morning News tweeted shortly before Trump this morning, “Call your Senators and urge them to repeal the Obamacare mandate tax.”
These calls to dismantle the individual mandate would have disastrous consequences. In a November 8 analysis, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that repealing the individual mandate in 2019 would decrease the number of people with health insurance “by 4 million in 2019 and 13 million in 2027.” Additionally, the report also estimated that for those not covered through their employers, “average premiums … would increase by about 10 percent in most years of the decade … relative to CBO’s baseline projections.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also found that the resulting premium increases “could affect about 7 million mostly middle-income people who purchase ACA-compliant individual market coverage but have incomes too high to qualify for subsidies.”
In his tweet, Trump suggested that dismantling the individual mandate -- and thereby throwing a wrench into the insurance market while simultaneously freeing up funds to use for tax cuts -- would lower taxes for the top tax bracket and benefit the middle class, though it’s unclear how it would do the latter. The plans Trump and Republican lawmakers have proposed are filled to brim with goodies for the wealthiest at the expense of middle-class workers. Repealing the individual mandate would only make the consequences even more dire for middle-class families.
As Talking Points Memo’s Alice Ollstein wrote, calls to get rid of the individual mandate are “going over like a lead balloon on Capitol Hill” and including a provision to repeal it “could put the entire bill in jeopardy.” That’s because politicians -- even Republicans -- realize that it would be a disaster for the health insurance markets and their political careers.
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Cuts to Medicaid were more likely to be mentioned, but effects felt by many disadvantaged communities were neglected
Evening news coverage in several crucial local television markets failed to adequately convey the ramifications of the so-called “Graham-Cassidy” health care plan, the latest Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A majority of local news coverage last week in the selected markets focused on GOP attempts to wrangle support for the pending legislation with few, if any, significant mentions of how the bill would affect residents.
Media Matters analyzed local television coverage of the Graham-Cassidy bill between September 18 and 22 in five major markets represented by Republican senators -- Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) -- who, at the time, had not yet committed their votes for or against the legislation (McCain and Collins have since said they could not support the legislation). According to this analysis, local affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC in the selected markets aired a total of 43 segments about the legislation during their evening newscasts, but much of the coverage involved little substance:
Of the 43 total segments across all five markets, just 19 -- roughly 44 percent -- mentioned that the Graham-Cassidy proposal to convert Medicaid funding into federal block grants while rolling back the ACA’s expansion of the program would result in significant benefit cuts for millions of Americans. According to a September 20 analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the steep cuts Graham-Cassidy would make to Medicaid in 2027 make the bill “likely [to] be even more damaging” than simply repealing the ACA in full would.
According to a January 2017 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), completely repealing the ACA’s individual insurance mandate, its expansion of Medicaid, and its provision of tax credits for individual insurance market customers would result in 32 million fewer people having insurance by 2026. Graham-Cassidy promises to do all three, which is why a September 20 analysis from the Center for American Progress predicted insurance losses of 32 million by 2026 should the bill become law. Unfortunately, this staggering reversal of Obama-era insurance gains was mentioned only seven times by qualifying local news coverage -- roughly 16 percent of segments.
Of the 43 segments included in this analysis, just nine -- roughly 21 percent -- mentioned that the Graham-Cassidy proposal would weaken ACA protections serving millions of Americans living with pre-existing health conditions. As Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) explained to Axios, though Graham-Cassidy does not completely repeal ACA rules regarding pre-existing conditions, "they might end up only existing on paper." The bill would replace ACA protections against charging higher premiums to customers with existing medical problems with language that professors told PolitiFact is " vague and subject to broad interpretation.” A new draft of the bill issued over the weekend includes even more “weakened protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik. As Hiltzik explained, the previous draft “would have allowed states to apply for a waiver of federal rules” regarding individuals with pre-existing conditions, while the newest draft “doesn’t even require a waiver” to skirt the requirements.
None of the segments reviewed for this analysis mentioned that Graham-Cassidy proposes to roll back essential health benefits (EHBs) enshrined by the ACA, by letting states opt out of requiring insurers to cover some particularly costly health care products. As FamiliesUSA explained in a June 27 blog, hollowing out these insurance requirements would be detrimental to millions of Americans who currently need or may one day seek treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders or require prenatal and maternity care. By rescinding EHB guarantees, Graham-Cassidy “would be a return to the days before the ACA” when “millions of people purchasing coverage on their own couldn’t get coverage for critical care,”including maternity care, ambulatory care, and hospitalization.
Local TV coverage often neglected the disastrous effects of Graham-Cassidy’s Medicaid cuts on low-income communities that are served by the program. Just three segments (7 percent) mentioned that the law would harm low-income Americans by rolling back the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid benefits to “poor, working-age adults, a population traditionally not eligible for coverage.” As CBPP noted in its breakdown of the legislation, individual states would face “no requirement to offer low- and moderate-income people coverage or financial assistance.” Indeed, the toll Graham-Cassidy would have on working- and middle-class Americans is particularly harsh given that the legislation is also expected to result in a spike in insurance premiums -- a fact mentioned just twice in 43 segments.
Graham-Cassidy’s disturbing impact on older Americans merited only four mentions -- in just over 9 percent of segments -- despite concerns voiced by the AARP that the bill “would result in an age tax for older Americans who would see their health care costs increase” as a result of the loss of consumer protections surrounding EHBs and pre-existing conditions.
At the same time, the impact of the legislation on the tens of millions of Americans living with a disability was virtually absent from local coverage of Graham-Cassidy, and the legislation’s harmful effects on people dealing with mental illness was entirely neglected. Just one segment out of 43 mentioned that Graham-Cassidy would harm people with disabilities by restricting programs they rely on, such as Medicaid, and removing protections they have under current law. The harmful effects the law would have on health care providers and patients dealing with mental illness were never mentioned.
Just three of 43 segments mentioned that the Graham-Cassidy legislation would freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood. According to Stats, the law “effectively defunds Planned Parenthood by prohibiting Medicaid reimbursements to organizations that meet a narrow description” clearly intended to target Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is a comprehensive national health care provider that disproportionately serves low-income women, but which is misleadingly portrayed as, at best, nothing more than an abortion clinic and, at worst, a criminal enterprise.
In addition to the financial hit to Planned Parenthood, which right-wing opponents erroneously claim can be replaced by other community health centers, a Washington Post review of the legislation revealed that Graham-Cassidy is actually designed to impose a backdoor ban on constitutionally protected rights to an abortion. The legislation as currently proposed would begin funneling tax credits for individual market insurance plans through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2021, making the money subject to the Hyde amendment, “which prohibits taxpayer funds from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is at stake.”
In addition to the restrictions Graham-Cassidy would impose on reproductive health care, the bill also limits ACA-enshrined protections for maternity care and contraceptive coverage, thereby increasing the cost burden for women who wish to prevent, maintain, or terminate a pregnancy. Despite the fact that Graham-Cassidy seems uniquely designed to harm women’s health, local TV news mentioned the disproportionate impact it would have on American women only once during the survey period.
Local coverage of the Graham-Cassidy proposal failed entirely when discussing how the law would negatively affect minority communities if enacted. According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while roughly 21 percent of all Americans rely on Medicaid as their primary form of health insurance, the number spikes to over 34 percent for Native Americans and Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, over 33 percent for African-Americans, and over 30 percent for Hispanic Americans. Given their increased reliance on Medicaid, minority communities are among several disadvantaged groups that are particularly ill-equipped to handle additional cuts to the program.
Furthermore, by eliminating protections for people with pre-existing conditions, the legislation would leave many minority communities at the mercy of massive premium increases in an unregulated insurance marketplace. Due to a confluence of environmental factors, some of the “health disparities affecting people of color” include increased susceptibility to cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other ailments.
Another aspect of the Graham-Cassidy bill that went unmentioned during the survey period was that Graham-Cassidy’s proposed expansion of the existing health savings account (HSA) model is effectively a tax giveaway to wealthier Americans. The legislation would increase the amount of pretax income families and individuals can contribute to HSAs, but it would do nothing for low- and middle-income Americans who already cannot afford to save money. As CBPP vice president Edwin Park noted in a November 2016 takedown of GOP proposals to expand HSAs, such a plan “would mostly help wealthy, not uninsured” people. Economist Kathryn Phillips further elaborated in a December blog for Health Affairs that HSAs “primarily benefit the wealthy, the healthy, and the educated” by providing a savings vehicle to tackle modest expenses. Additionally, KFF found in 2006, when the GOP was vetting a major health care overhaul during the Bush administration, that HSAs can increase out-of-pocket costs for “people with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high-cost medical needs” and would do nothing to increase coverage among the uninsured.
Media Matters used iQ media to search evening newscasts (airing at 9 p.m., 10 p.m., or 11 p.m.) from local affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC in Anchorage, AK; Cincinnati, OH; Charleston, WV; Phoenix, AZ; and Portland, ME for segments that aired between September 18 and 22 about Graham-Cassidy. The markets included were either the largest television market in the selected states or, in the case of Cincinnati, a large market where Sen. Portman lives. We identified and reviewed all segments that included one or more the following words or phrases: Graham, Cassidy, Senate health, GOP health, Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, Obamacare. Segments were then coded for mentions of the following issues regarding Graham-Cassidy:
We also coded for mentions that:
Interviews with Graham-Cassidy supporters spread misinformation, devolve into misleading deflection
Republican senators took to the airwaves this week to shore up support for the so-called “Graham-Cassidy” health care bill, the latest GOP proposal that aims to dismantle much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a series of proposals adopted from previously failed legislation. The often contentious interviews frequently devolved into stonewalling and deflection when reporters pressed lawmakers for answers about the ways the legislation would affect tens of millions of Americans who rely on programs such as Medicaid, live with pre-existing medical conditions, or have gained coverage under the ACA.
Republican lawmakers have attempted to build support for the latest attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, which is in jeopardy of collapse amid reports that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is opposed to the bill, by once again recycling worn-out myths about the Obama-era health care reform law and spreading falsehoods about the proposed legislation. With Republicans set to appear on the Sunday morning political shows this weekend to build support for the bill, which many lawmakers seem to know little about, their refusal to engage in a factual debate about the legislation should be a red flag for the journalists conducting those interviews.
During September 20 appearances on CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) spread several falsehoods about the health care repeal legislation that bears his name. (He spread much of the same misinformation from the friendly confines of Fox News, where he was allowed to push his talking points completely unchallenged.) During his CNN and MSNBC appearances, Cassidy falsely claimed the proposal would result in more people getting health insurance coverage and asserted that the new bill protects the tens of millions of Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions. When CNN’s Chris Cuomo pressed Cassidy to provide proof of his claims, Cassidy pivoted to attack the ACA’s individual insurance mandate. And when MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle confronted him about coverage cuts for “low-income seniors, children, and people with disabilities,” Cassidy evaded the question while claiming that his bill would simply reroute money currently allocated to those groups through the existing Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP):
In reality, the Center for American Progress, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), and The Commonwealth Fund each reported that, according to previous estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Graham-Cassidy proposal to end private market health insurance tax credits, along with its severe cuts to Medicaid and rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, would result in 32 million people losing health insurance over the next decade. And as Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation explained to Axios, though the Graham-Cassidy bill would not repeal the ACA's rules about pre-existing conditions, "they might end up only existing on paper." That's because, as PolitiFact has also noted, the bill removes ACA protections against charging higher premiums to customers with existing medical problems and the language about pre-existing conditions "is vague and subject to broad interpretation.”
During a September 20 appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) emphasized the supposed need to pass his health care agenda because “Obamacare is collapsing around us.” Graham also asserted that under the ACA, “access to health care is going down” nationwide:
Graham’s claim that the ACA “is collapsing” echoes years of conservative smears about the law, which exaggerate any hiccup in the implementation of ACA reforms as proof of an impending “death spiral.” In reality, the insurance marketplaces established by the law have stabilized considerably over the past year, and lingering issues are largely the result of Republican sabotage, not a failure of the ACA. Graham’s additional claim that the newest GOP bill is a solution to reduced health care access could not be further from the truth: The number of uninsured Americans reached an all-time low in 2016 before the Trump administration launched its efforts to dismantle the ACA and, as previously noted, Graham’s bill would strip insurance from millions of Americans.
During a September 19 interview on CNN’s New Day, bill co-sponsor Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) bemoaned health care reforms instituted by the ACA, which he called “Washington, D.C.’s one-size-fits-all model” for health care coverage. Johnson reiterated his support for the proposal in the Graham-Cassidy bill to convert ACA revenue into block grants to states, which he claimed would be “far more responsive to their citizens than Washington, D.C., will.” Co-host Alisyn Camerota largely let Johnson push his talking points unchecked, and she seemed more interested in Johnson’s plan to recruit additional Republican supporters than with the ways the legislation would affect millions of Americans:
Johnson approached his September 21 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with a similar strategy, stressing that Graham-Cassidy would help states be more responsive to their citizens and deflecting questions about concerns from several Republican governors that the bill’s Medicaid cuts will devastate low-income communities. When co-host Willie Geist pressed Johnson about whether some Medicaid recipients would be “denied coverage they have now” by Graham-Cassidy’s rollback of the program, Johnson again deflected those concerns and suggested the problem could be avoided if governors “manage their programs properly”:
In fact, according to CBPP, any proposal to convert federal Medicaid funding into a block grant system would inevitably lead to major funding cuts and program restrictions. CBPP estimated that millions of Americans would lose Medicaid coverage from the block grant system proposed by Graham-Cassidy, a concern shared by the bipartisan group of governors opposed to the bill.
On the September 19 edition of MSNBC’s MTP Daily, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) falsely claimed that Medicaid had “failed” as a result of ACA reforms and argued that the program insuring low-income Americans is unpopular with patients. (Host Katy Tur, however, correctly noted that Medicaid is extremely popular.) Barrasso also asserted that “this bill protects everyone with a pre-existing condition” and smeared ACA patient protections requiring insurance plans to cover essential health benefits (EHBs), which protect consumers from inadequate plans. When Tur pressed him to provide support for his claims, Barrasso simply talked over her repeated inquiries while reiterating the same talking points:
On the September 20 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barrasso had a less contentious interview with co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, during which he spread even more misinformation about the Graham-Cassidy plan. Barrasso bizarrely claimed that Graham-Cassidy would not kick millions of people off their plans, but would instead empower millions to drop coverage with “the free choice they have as Americans.” He also falsely claimed the Graham-Cassidy bill would result in states “get[ting] more money to deal with” the health care needs of their own residents. A September 20 report from Avalere Health, however, has revealed that the bill would actually “reduce federal funding to states by $215 billion” through 2026, by $489 billion through 2027 when block grants for Medicaid run out, and by a staggering $4 trillion through 2036. In the end, Graham-Cassidy would redistribute billions of dollars from states that enacted ACA provisions to those (like Wyoming) that refused to do so:
Media Matters research coordinator Julie Alderman contributed to this research
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