NIHCM Health Care Digital Media Award: the Finalists

Thanks to NIHCM for including “Obamacare’s Victims” parts 1 and 2 on the list (see below for a brief description of this two-part post) , and congratulations to all of the finalists.

The award recognizes excellence in digital media that improves understanding of health care topics.A $10,000 prize will be presented to the winner at a dinner in Washington, DC on June 1, 2015.

I urge everyone to read the nominated posts. If you are interested in healthcare and healthcare reform, this is a good short list of “must-read’s.”  You may not agree with all of them, but they provide valuable information, and highlight key controversies. 

Lisa Aliferis, Lisa Pickoff-White, Olivia Allen-Price, State of Health, KQED, 11/17/14, 9/11/14, 3/23/14, 2/3/14

Julia Belluz, “The Science of Obesity and Weight Loss,” Vox, 11/27/14, 12/19/14, 12/23/14, 8/25/14

Aaron Carroll, Mark Olsen, Stan Muller, “Healthcare Triage—Using Evidence to Inform Policy,” Healthcare Triage, 1/19/14, 6/9/14, 10/6/14, 5/26/14

Carlos Fioravanti, “The Stepping Stones to Rare Diseases,” Pesquisa, August 2014

Westby Fisher, “The ABIM Foundation, Choosing Wisely, and the $2.3 Million Condominium” & “Reviewing the Regulators,” Dr. Wes Blog, 12/16/14, 10/21/14

David Gorski, “The Problems with Right-to-Try,” Science-Based Medicine, 3/8/14, 4/27/14, 7/21/14, 11/2/14

Matthew Herper, The Medicine Show, Forbes, 1/8/14, 6/12/14, 8/8/14, 12/7/14

Alexander Howard, TechRepublic, CBS Interactive, 6/10/14, 3/11/14

Allan Joseph, “Treating Hepatitis C,” The Incidental Economist, 6/13/14, 6/16/14, 6/17/14, 6/18/14

Sarah Kliff, “How America Pays for Health Care,” Vox, 9/2/14, 12/22/14, 4/17/14, 12/2/14

Maggie Mahar, “Obamacare’s Victims, Part 1 and Part 2,” HealthInsurance.org, 1/2/14, 1/3/14

Marc-David Munk, “The Future,” Considering American Healthcare, 9/13/14, 8/18/14, 8/8/14, 7/10/14

Elaine Schattner, “Cancer Patients Need More Guidance in Treatment Decisions,” Forbes, 8/28/14, 8/13/14, 9/24/14, 11/2/14

Gary Schwitzer, “HealthNewsReview.org Posts 34 Pieces in 2014 on Imbalanced Media Messages on Screening Tests,” Health News Watchdog, HealthNewsReview.org, 10/1/14, 7/9/14, 6/25/14, 9/16/14

“Obamacare’s Victims”– part 1 and part 2 (Summary) 

(Note to HealthBeat readers: these posts originally appeared on HealthInsurance.org. )

For more than two years, health reform’s opponents have been feasting on tales of Obamacare’s innocent victims—Americans who lost their insurance because it didn’t comply with the ACA’s regulations. Critics claim that now they have to shell out more than they can afford—or go without coverage.

Trouble is, many of those stories just aren’t true.

In Part 1 of the post, I write about a Fort Worth Star Telegram article that leads with the tale of Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old new mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Her insurer just cancelled her policy, and according to Johnson, new insurance would cost her over $1,000 a month.

That claim stopped me in my tracks. Under the ACA, no 26-year-old could be charged $1,000 monthly – even if she has MS.

Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

At that point, I knew that something was wrong.

When I checked the exchange – plugging in Johnson’s county and her age – I soon found a Blue Choice Gold PPO plan priced at $332 monthly (just $7 more than she had been paying for the plan that was cancelled). Co-pays to see a primary care doctor would run just $10 ($50 to visit a specialist) and she would not have to pay down the $1,500 deductible before the insurance kicked in.

You’ll find part 1 here and part 2 here. If you would like to comment, please come back to this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How A CBS Video About An Obamacare Victim Misled Millions- Part 2 (What the “Victim” Revealed in Our Final Interview)

“Woman Battling Kidney Cancer Losing Company Health Plan Due To Obamacare.”

That was the headline on a story that CBS’ Washington Bureau sent to its affiliates last fall.

CBS correspondent Susan McGinnis narrates the piece: “During the 10 years that Debra Fishericks has worked at Atkinson Realty, the company has provided group health insurance with manageable premiums,” McGinnis explains –“until owner Betsy Atkinson learned the policy would be terminated because it doesn’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

“Debra has scoured the website looking for a new policy,” McGinnis adds, referring to healthcare.gov, but “so far, she cannot afford the premiums.”

“They just keep going up higher and higher when there is a pre-existing condition,” says Fishericks.

McGinnis wraps up the story: “Debra hopes that eventually she will find a plan that fits her budget so that she can still makes trips to Indiana –to visit her grandson.”

The camera then turns to Fishericks, sitting at her desk, looking at a photo of her grandson.  “If I can’t go to see him—that’s the worst,” she says.  And she begins to cry.

I was astonished: I thought most people understood that, under the Affordable Care Act, insurers can no longer charge a customer more because she suffers from a pre-existing condition.

Later, when I interviewed Fishericks, I realized that she honestly believed she was going to have to pay more for coverage because she had been diagnosed with cancer. Like a great many Americans, she didn’t understand how the ACA would protect her. Given how hard Obamacare’s opponents have worked to obscure the law’s benefits, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

But what shocked me is that no one at CBS’s Washington Bureau seemed to realize that what Fishericks had said just wasn’t true: not the correspondent who narrated the story, not the reporter who went down to Virginia Beach and interviewed Fishericks, not the person who edited the video.

Fifty-eight CBS stations aired the piece. Newspapers and bloggers ran with it. Nationwide, millions of Americans were left with the impression that under Obamacare, cancer patients may not be able to afford insurance.

How had this happened?

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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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An Obamacare “Horror Story” That Just Isn’t True: How Did This Happen? Part 2

For months, health reform’s opponents have been trumpeting tales of Obamacare’s innocent victims – Americans who lost their insurance because it doesn’t comply with the ACA’s regulations, and now have to shell out more than they can afford – or go without coverage.

Trouble is, many of those stories just aren’t true.

Below I posted about a Fort Worth Star Telegram article that leads with the tale of Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old new mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Her insurer just cancelled her policy, and according to Johnson, new insurance would cost her over $1,000 a month.

That claim stopped me in my tracks. Under the ACA, no 26-year-old could be charged $1,000 monthly – even if she has MS.

Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

At that point, I knew that something was wrong.

When I checked the exchange – plugging in Johnson’s county and her age – I soon found a Blue Choice Gold PPO plan priced at $332 monthly (just $7 more than she had been paying for the plan that was cancelled). Co-pays to see a primary care doctor would run just $10 ($50 to visit a specialist) and she would not have to pay down the $1,500 deductible before the insurance kicked in.

My radar went up: Recently, I have been reading more and more reports regarding “fake Obamacare victims.”

Now I couldn’t help but wonder: Who are these folks in the Start-Telegram story? The paper profiled four people who supposedly had been hurt by Obamacare. When I Googled their names I soon discovered that three (including Johnson) wereTea Party members.

The paper describes them as among Obamacare’s “losers,” but the truth is that they didn’t want to be winners. Two hadn’t even attempted to check prices in the exchanges.

Meanwhile, it appeared no one at the Star-Telegram even attempted to run a background check on the sources, or fact-check their stories. I couldn’t help but wonder: “Why?”

The answer will surprise you.

Johnson finds affordable insurance …

When I tried to phone the reporter, she didn’t return multiple calls. Finally, I reached an editor at the paper. He told me that  both Yamil Berard, the reporter, and her editor were out of the office. I expressed my concern that inaccuracies in the story would discourage readers who were thinking about signing up in the exchanges. He suggested that I sounded like an “advocate” for Obamacare.

To my surprise, two hours later he called me back.

He had just received an internal email, he told me, which revealed that Whitney Johnson had found affordable insurance for $350 a month – just $25 more than the premium on her cancelled policy, and roughly what I thought she would pay in the exchange.

I asked the editor if he could send me a copy of the e-mail. “No,” he replied “It’s an internal memo.”

Would the paper publish a follow-up, acknowledging that Johnson would not have to pay $1,000 for coverage?

“I’m not sure what we’ll do with it.” He sounded cautious.

The Star-Telegram Doesn’t Tell Its Readers

To this day – more than a month after the story appeared – the Star-Telegram still hasn’t  published a follow-up, explaining that under Obamacare, no 20-something – including Johnson – will be charged $1,000 a month.

I then contacted Johnson, who confirmed that she had found a $350 Blue plan outside of the exchange. Based on the details she provided, I managed to locate it. (The premium is actually $347.92 a month.)

It turns out to be very similar to the exchange policy I had found. The premium is higher, but the deductible ($1,000 instead of $1,500) and co-pays for medications ($10/50/100 vs. $35/75/150) would be slightly lower. The provider network would be the same (Blue Choice).

The exchange plan offers a stronger safety net, and for someone with MS this could be important: If her husband’s income drops, or he loses health benefits at work, they would immediately be available for a subsidy. Because her new policy is not on the exchange, they would have to wait until open enrollment in November 2014 to sign up for a 2015 plan with subsidies.

I Talk to the Story’s Editor–and the Reporter 

Next, I spoke to Steve Kaskovich, the editor who assigned the story to Berard. He explained that he had asked the reporter to write a piece about people whose policies were cancelled, and as a result were “caught in the quagmire.”

I originally wrote this post for www.healthinsurance.org, an independent website (not connected to the insurance industry)where I, Wendell Potter, Hal Pollack, LInda Bertghold  and Louise Norris all blog.

To read the rest of this post click  here / and “Scroll down to Editor: Find People Caught In a Quagmire.” There you will discover what the editor had to say. When I finally talked to the  reporter, the truth came out. You can also hear me talking about the Star-Telegram piece –and problems with the way the media has been covering health care reform on NPR’s “Eye on the Media” . Click here: 

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Obamacare “Horror Stories”–Who Are These People? How Many of These Stories Are True? Part 1

No doubt you have seen or read stories about innocent Americans who have become casualties of Obamacare. The law that was supposed to help middle-class families is now asking them to pay unreasonable premiums and sky-high deductibles. In many cases, they had perfectly good coverage that has been cancelled because it didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “standards.”

Trouble is, some of these anecdotes  just aren’t true. When an unbiased  reporter begins to make some phone calls, they start to fall apart.

Nevertheless,  these tales of Americans harmed by Obamacare  are being promoted by various conservative groups–including the Republican National Committee.  An internal RNC memo provides advice on how to collect stories of “victims” and feed them to the press.

Knowing this, when I read the horror stories,  I can’t  help but wonder: have the folks who are quoted checked prices on their Exchange?  Do they know  whether they are eligible for government subsidies?   How many didn’t  even try to find out because they just don’t like the ACA?  Who are these people who step forward to  identify themselves victims of the trainwreck called Obmacare? Where did they come from? How did the reporters who wrote the stories find them?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are journalists  fact checking their tales? How many are just writing down whatever their sources tell them?

          A Young Mother Suffering From MS Searches For Insurance

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a story that ran in the Fort Worth Star Telegram on November 26. The lead is compelling:

“Whitney Johnson, an Arlington 26-year-old with multiple sclerosis, can’t afford to go without health insurance. Her life depends on it.

She gave birth to her first child Sept. 2 after undergoing a series of rigorous steroid treatments, surgeries and a plasma exchange that saved her life. She pays $325 a month for an individual insurance plan – a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of her plasma protein replacement therapy, which runs $40,000 a pop. She undergoes treatment every five weeks.

But now, with the Affordable Care Act in full swing, Johnson’s insurance is under threat.. . .

Recently, the story  explains, Johnson’s insurer sent her a letter saying that because her policy “does not comply with Obamacare” it will be cancelled Jan. 1, 2014. Initially she hoped that she might shift to her husband’s employer-based health plan  For $325 a month, it covers him and their son. But it  turns out that if Whitney were added the policy, their premium would triple.

Meanwhile, she “has been unable to access the federal health exchange website” the newspaper reports, “which has been hampered by technical problems.”

In a video talking about her experience,  Johnson claims  that when she began “trying to shop around ‘ outside the Exchange, “the rates went from $1,000 to $1,800 a month for not even close to the coverage that my previous  insurance had offered me.”

This is when I knew that there was something very wrong with Johnson’s story.

                        $1000 a Month To Insure a 26-Year- Old ???

Anyone who knows anything about Obamacare would realize that under the ACA, no 26-year-old would be asked to pay $12,000 a year – even if she had MS. Obamacare does not let insurers charge more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

And Johnson is just 26. In most exchanges, 20-somethings pay far less than older Americans.  I was certain that that she could get a much better deal. It didn’t take me long to find one.

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