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Multiple news outlets' headlines parroted President Donald Trump’s false claim that the current proposed Republican health care bill includes protections for people with pre-existing conditions, when in fact the bill would end the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) prohibition on insurance companies charging people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums. The incorrect headlines continue media outlets’ unfortunate pattern of parroting false claims from Trump.
In a pre-recorded interview on April 29 with CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump discussed the current version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the House Republican bill that would dismantle the ACA, which was amended in order to gain support from the conservative House Freedom Caucus. During his discussion of the effort with CBS’ John Dickerson, Trump incorrectly claimed that “pre-existing conditions are in the bill,” and that “we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall.” From a transcript of the interview:
JOHN DICKERSON: Well, this is why I wanted to ask you. You said to Tucker, "We will take care of our people, or I am not signing it." You said you were going to negotiate.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, that's what I just said.
JOHN DICKERSON: So tell me what in the bill you've been negotiating to get--
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But let me--
JOHN DICKERSON: --in that helps your supporters. I'm just trying to get the details of how your people--
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me just tell you.
JOHN DICKERSON: --will be helped.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, "Pre-existing is not covered." Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, "Has to be."
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This bill is much different than it was a little while ago, okay? This bill has evolved. And we didn't have a failure on the bill. You know, it was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn't have done again is put a timeline. That's why on the second iteration, I didn't put a timeline.
But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill. We have -- we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall. We're taking across all of the borders or the lines so that insurance companies can compete--
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later clarified to The Associated Press that Trump was indeed referring to the current version of the bill. According to the AP, Spicer said that “under the current version people with pre-existing conditions who maintain coverage will not be impacted,” and that “waivers would change how states could treat those who don't maintain insurance and they could find ways to ‘incentivize people to obtain coverage before they fall ill.’”
According to Vox health care reporter Sarah Kliff, the latest version of the bill “would give states authority to let insurers charge sick people higher premiums.” Kliff added that the bill “caves to conservatives’ demand … to deregulate the insurance industry and let health plans once again use pre-existing conditions to set premium prices” by having “waivers that states can use to let health insurers charge sick patients higher premiums, a practice outlawed under current law.” Kliff also noted that, in his reference to pools, "It sounds like Trump may be confusing preexisting conditions with high risk pools."
But multiple outlets’ headlines did not point this out, instead highlighting Trump’s claim without noting it was false or misleading.
The latest error is yet another example of media outlets publishing inaccurate headlines about Trump’s false statements since his election. These have included Trump’s false claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, his false claim that media underreport terrorist attacks, and his baseless claim that Obama “is behind” numerous leaks in his administration and numerous protests against him.
Getting the headlines right is critical: The Washington Post reported on a study in 2014 finding “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.” As such, outlets need to accurately report these stories so consumers who do not read past the headline have a correct understanding of what happened.