Why Are So Many Americans Confused About Obamacare? How a Video Produced by CBS’ Washington Bureau Misled Millions –Part 1

For nearly four years, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans remain flummoxed by Obamacare.  Many are confused; some are afraid. They don’t know what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) says, and they don’t know how it will affect their lives

From the beginning, many in the media have blamed the White House.

Early in 2011, when a CBS poll showed that only 56% of Americans said the bill’s impact had not been explained well—or even “somewhat well”– CBS senior producer Ward Sloane summed up the prevailing view: “To me, that is a Monumental Failure by the Obama Administration. . . . [my emphasis]  And it opens up a big hole for the Republicans which they have driven through with, you know, several tanks.

Because Democrats had botched explaining the legislation, Sloane argued, Republicans “can say whatever they want about the healthcare bill … whether it’s true or not, and  . . . it will resonate . . .  People are afraid. People are afraid of things that they don’t understand and they don’t know. . . The Republicans are playing to this fear and they’re doing a masterful job.”

Sloane slid over the role that reporters might play in helping the public understand an enormous—and enormously important– piece of legislation.  If Republicans were spreading disinformation, shouldn’t news organizations like CBS try to separate fact from fiction?

Network and cable news shows are in our living rooms every evening. President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are not. In speeches and in press conferences Obama and Sebelius can address a handful of questions, but they cannot explain the hundreds of interlocking details that will benefit millions of Americans. The public needs an independent, informed press that will dig into the major provisions of Obamacare and explain them, not once, but again and again.

There was just one problem: As Sloane suggested, the Republicans were doing “a masterful job” of misleading the public. What he didn’t take into account is that journalists are part of “the public.”

                      The Networks Spread Fear and Confusion

Fast forward two years to the fall of 2013.

Little has changed; most Americans still don’t understand the Affordable Care Act, and many are convinced that they have been betrayed by the president they elected.

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The Media’s One-Sided Coverage of Obamacare

Why does the media continue to insist on promoting the conservative meme that “Obamacare is a disaster”? Today Bloomberg ran a story headlined “Health-Care Law Support Hits New Low, Poll Shows

The piece begins: “Support for President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law has reached its nadir, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released today. The survey shows 62 percent of Americans opposing the law, the highest total since CNN began polling on the issue in March 2010. Just 35 percent favored it. The health-care law has been plagued by a faulty website, hindering efforts to log in and buy insurance, and by the revelation that millions of Americans could not keep their health insurance as Obama originally promised.”

It would be more accurate to say: “Support has been plagued by a faulty website—and a media determined to bury the good news while exaggerating the bad news.”

The very next sentence of the Bloomberg piece illustrates what I’m talking about: “Of those opposing the law, 15 percent said the legislation didn’t go far enough.” (If you actually look at the poll, you will find that pollsters were more explicit: 15% said the law was “not liberal enough.)  Bloomberg continues: ““Another 43 percent said the measure was too liberal based on Republican proposals such as the health-care measure championed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.”

Here is a more accurate, cleaerer  lead:  “50 percent of those polled either like the law (35% ) or think that it isn’t liberal enough (15%).”

It also is worth noting that the percent of people who think the ACA isn’t liberal enough is rising: in May 11% said the law wasn’t sufficiently progressive; last month 14% voiced that complaint. In other words, as more people learn about the details of Obamacare, more think that it’s too conservative.)

That’s quite different from the lead the reporter chose: “The survey shows 62 percent of Americans oppose the law.” Most readers would assume that means 62% are opposed to reform, when in fact 50% either support reform or would have liked a more progressive bill.

A balanced story would emphasize that the country remains deeply divided about the overhaul of our health care system. That should have been the headline: “Half of all Americans Support Legislation Sixteen percent thought they would be “better off” while 40% said they expected to be about the same.”Designed to Make U.S. Healthcare Better, More Equitable, and More Affordable.”

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The Truth About Obamacare’s Exchanges

          Paul Krugman: “There are two remarkable things about this kind of doomsaying. One is that the doomsayers haven’t rethought their premises despite being wrong again and again — perhaps because the news media continue to treat them with immense respect.”

If you Google “Obamacare,” “Exchanges,” and “Disaster,” more than 20 million articles will pop up.

One month into a six-month enrollment process, the Media Pundits have spoken.

In truth, there are two tales to be told: one that is getting widespread coverage, and one that is not.

The stories that you are Not hearing come from folks like Michael Cadigan, the president of a New Mexico law firm who enrolled his firm’s four employees the day his state’s Exchange opened. “I thought it was going to be an administrative nightmare,” he confesses. Instead, he quickly found a policy “that will cost $1,000 less a month than I’m currently paying.” 

Or, Randall Bennett: His family will be paying more for the coverage he signed up for in Utah’s Exchange, but it will be significantly better than what they had before. This year, Bennett reports he has been paying a $420 monthly premium with a $2,000 annual deductible. Next year, he’ll be paying a $720 premium, but the deductible will be only $500 and his family will be getting maternity and dental coverage — something they couldn’t  get in the individual market before Obamacare came along.

As for the application process, Bennett says: “Before, trying to get insurance was so difficult that surprisingly even with all of the bugs, I still found [the Exchange website] simpler (In the past, people attempting to buy their own coverage in the individual market had to provide carriers with detail medical information, in order to prove that they were not suffering from a pre-existing condition. Under Obamacare, that isn’t necessary. Insurers can no longer use your medical records as an excuse to jack up your premiums.

“So for us this is a huge win,” Bennett concludes, “because we’re paying what we think is fair. And yes it’s more than before, but we actually have coverage that we like now.”

As of October 24, Cadigan and Bennett were just two of some 700,000 Americans who have filed applications in the Exchanges. The truth is that Obamacare’s websites are working– though not in all states.

Make no mistake: enrolling millions of American in Obamacare represents an enormous challenge. But we know that it can be done — because it is being done, and done well– in many states.

Unfortunately this is not a story that sells newspapers, especially when a program is as controversial as Obamacare.

State vs. Federal Exchanges

The marketplaces that are working best are in states that chose to set up their own Exchanges.

Originally, conservatives in Congress argued that states should be able to construct—and control– their own online sign-up sites. The Affordable Care Act offered them that opportunity.

But after thinking it over, 26 states (24 of them led by Republicans) refused. In these 26 states, it was left to the Feds to run “Healthcare.gov.”

Health IT pioneer Fred Trotter says he is “not at all surprised” by what happened next: Computers and human navigators have been overwhelmed by the sheer size of a sprawling project. Technical glitches have created virtual gridlock.

“When you get a tremendous amount of traffic going to any site on the internet a single computer can’t handle it,” Trotert told Ezra Klein in a recent interview. “You have to have more than one computer sharing a task. At modern sites like Amazon and Ebay . . . the main innovation they’ve pioneered is using lots of computers at the same time to answer one query.”

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As the Republicans Take Tampa, Consider What a GOP Victory Would Mean for Women’s Health

For decades, Republicans have opposed abortion. This, we know, and so it comes as no surprise that Mitt Romney, the Party’s presidential candidate, has called “Roe vs. Wade“ one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history.” 

But what some call the “war against women” is escalating.  This year, the Republican platform calls for a constitutional amendment that would make abortion illegal.

In 1976, the GOP blueprint acknowledged that “the question of abortion is one of the most difficult and controversial of our time,” and the Party called for “a continuance of the public dialogue on abortion,” which it called a “moral and personal issue.”  Just eight years ago, the preamble to the Republican platform declared: “we respect and accept that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing views.”  But today, there is no such language in a platform that calls for “a human life amendment to the Constitution,” and declares that “abortion is detrimental to women’s health and well-being.”

Meanwhile Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Ohio all have passed legislation outlawing abortion after 20 weeks, even though, as the Center for American Progress’  Emillie Openchowski points out “complications are sometimes discovered after this point in a pregnancy that could cause serious harm to the woman. In those states, a woman would be forced to continue the pregnancy, no matter the risk to her health.”  This is frightening.

While Republicans parade women across their Tampa stage– and avoid talking about what they have quietly embedded in the Party platform–it seems a good time to consider what a Republican victory would mean for women’s health.

Turning Back the Clock: Contraception 

Susan Faludi’s Pulitzer-prize winning 1991 book, Backlash, is subtitled: “The Undeclared War Against American Women.” Twenty-one years later, it seems the war is out in the open . As a recent New York Times editorial observes:  “Having won on abortion, social conservatives are turning to birth control.”

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Medicare, Medicaid, Global Warming and Gun Control– Can Liberals and Conservatives Find Middle Ground? Should They? Part 1

 In a nation divided, “compromise” has become an extraordinarily appealing idea. Weary of the acrimony and endless wrangling, more and more Americans are asking: Why can’t conservative and liberal politicians come together and forge bipartisan solutions to the problems this nation faces?

Keep in mind that it is not only our elected representatives who are having trouble finding common ground. The Pew Research Center’s latest survey of “American Values” reveals that as voters head to the polls this November, their basic beliefs are more polarized than at any point in the past 25 years. In particular, when it comes to the question of government regulation and involvement in our lives, the average Republican has gravitated to the right. In 1987, 62% of Republicans agreed that “the government should take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” Now just 40% support this proposition. Democrats haven’t changed their views on this issue: most continue to believe “there, but for fortune . . .”

In Congress, where polarization has led to paralysis, some argue that Republican leaders are responsible for creating gridlock by insisting on “party discipline.” But liberals in Washington also are accused of “dividing the nation.” Even President Obama, who set out to unite the country, has been described as “the most polarizing president ever.” During his third year in office, Gallup reports, “an average of 80 percent of Democrats approved of the job he was doing, as compared to 12 percent of Republicans who felt the same way. That’s a 68-point partisan gap, the highest for any president’s third year”–though this may say more about the temper of the times than the man himself. Nevertheless, many commentators believe that progressives, like conservatives, need to cede ground. The debate has become too contentious, too “political,” they say. I disagree. There are times when we cannot “split the difference.” Too much is at stake. We must weigh what would be won against what would be lost.

But reporters who have been taught that they must be “fair” and “balanced” often write as if all points of view are equally true. After all, they don’t want to be accused of “bias.” Thus they fall into the trap of what veteran Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse calls “he said, she said” journalism. To them, the “middle ground” seems a safe place– a fair place– to position a story.

This may help explain why so many bloggers and newspaper reporters are calling for “bi-partisan consensus” as they comment on some of the most important issues of the day.

Global Warming

Writing about global warming, Huffington Post senior writer Tom Zeller Jr. recently declared: “Compromise is the necessary first step to tackling the problem. What ordinary Americans really want is for honest brokers on all sides to detoxify and depoliticize the global warming conversation, and then get on with the business of addressing it. That business will necessarily recognize that we all bring different values and interests to the table; that we perceive risks and rewards, costs and benefits differently; and it will identify solutions through thoughtful discussion and that crazy thing called compromise.” [ my emphasis] (Hat tip to David Roberts (Twitter’s “Dr. Grist”) for calling my attention to this post.)

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Self-fulfilling Media Narratives: How One Man Wound Up Deciding the Fate of Healthcare Reform

Personally, I am delighted that Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA)   But, I am troubled that the fate of U.S. healthcare turned on one man’s opinion. This is not how things are supposed to work in a democracy.

Healthcare represents 16% of our economy. It touches all of our lives. If we don’t like the laws our elected representatives pass, we can vote them out of office.  The Supreme Court, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry whether its decisions reflect the will of the people. The Justices are appointed for life.  This is why they are not charged with setting public policy.

                        The Media Shapes Our Expectations 

As I suggested when oral arguments began back in March,  a “media narrative” drove the case to the Court– a fiction that caught on, in the press, on television, and in the blogosphere, where it began to take on a reality of its own. A handful of “state attorneys general and governors” saw “a political opportunity” and floated the idea that the law might be unconstitutional.  The media picked up the story, repeated the heated rhetoric, and “fanned the flames … Before long, what constitutional experts thought was a non-story became a Supreme Court case.”

These media narratives are based on what “that those in power and in the media have concluded is likely to happen,” says Lyle Denniston, known by some as the “Dean” of Supreme Court reporters.  Writing on “Scotusblog.com,” he observes: “One ‘narrative’ about the health care law began building up in Washington, and perhaps beyond, right after the Supreme Court held its hearings in late March.  The mandate, it was said, was going to be struck down, the government’s lawyer had blown it, and the President was going to be deeply wounded politically over the loss of his treasured domestic initiative.”  Some media outlets were so persuaded by their own myth-making that initially, they reported that the Court had ruled against reform!

Denniston explains that once the story goes viral, the conventional wisdom is then repeated, over and over, until “often, it seems, such ‘narratives’ become self-fulfilling.”

He then points to a “currently prevailing ‘narrative’ that most of the country is stubbornly committed to the Tea Party’s wish to limit the power of the federal government.”   The facts contradict the  fiction: Tea Party Candidates have been “losing  steam” in recent elections   In April, a WashingtonPost/ABC poll revealed that support for the Tea Party among young adults had plunged to 31%– down from 52% in the fall 2011. Half of those polled said that the more they heard about the Tea Party, the less they liked it.

I wrote this post for healthinsurance.org, where it appeared earliler today, To Read the Rest of the Post, go to http://www.healthinsurance.org/blog/2012/07/12/self-fulfilling-media-narratives/

 

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