After CBS News ran a deceptive segment highlighting a Florida woman's increased health care costs, Fox News reportedly contacted the woman to appear on three of its shows. CBS has run several misleading segments on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since the implementation of the law's exchanges.
On CBS' This Morning, political correspondent Jan Crawford highlighted the story of Dianne Barette, a Florida woman who received notice that her plan did not meet the ACA's minimum coverage requirements. In the segment, Crawford said Barette "pays $54 a month. The new plan she's being offered would run $591 a month, ten times more than what she currently pays." According to the Washington Post's media blogger Erik Wemple, after the CBS story aired, Barette was contacted by three Fox News shows, Fox & Friends, Your World with Neil Cavuto, and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren.
Wemple, who also interviewed Barrette, pointed out a detail the CBS report failed to mention: in addition to being inadequate, the coverage Barrette currently receives doesn't cover hospitalizations, something that "could well have bankrupted Barrette under her current insurance." From Wemple's article:
More coverage may provide a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of Barrette's situation: Her current health insurance plan, she says, doesn't cover "extended hospital stays; it's not designed for that," says Barrette. Well, does it cover any hospitalization? "Outpatient only," responds Barrette. Nor does it cover ambulance service and some prenatal care. On the other hand, says Barrette, it does cover "most of my generic drugs that I need" and there's a $50 co-pay for doctors' appointments. "It's all I could afford right now," says Barrette.
In sum, it's a pray-that-you-don't-really-get-sick "plan." When asked if she ever required hospitalization, Barrette says she did. It happened when she was employed by Raytheon, which provided "excellent benefits." Ever since she left the company and started working as an independent contractor, "I haven't been hospitalized since then, thank God." Hospitalization is among the core requirements for health-care plans under Obamacare.
CBS has run several misleading reports on the ACA since the health care exchanges were implemented. On October 25, the network aired a segment warning that high rates of Medicaid enrollment could pose a "threat to Obamacare['s] structure." The segment, which also featured Crawford, claimed that Medicaid enrollment is causing "concern there won't be enough healthy people buying health insurance for the system to work." But as Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress pointed out, Medicaid's "success does not spell doom for reform":
Medicaid expansion -- which serves individuals below 133 percent of the federal poverty line -- and private insurers attract different enrollees and operate in completely different risk pools. Individuals qualify for tax credits in the new marketplaces if they have incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty line. "People eligible for Medicaid are not eligible for tax credits to help low and middle income pay their premiums in health insurance exchanges," Lary Levitt, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "so they were never expected to be part of the individual insurance market risk pool."
Another Jan Crawford segment, which aired on the October 23 edition of CBS' This Morning, claimed that a pricing feature on HealthCare.gov was misleading consumers. The feature estimates premiums by asking consumers general questions such as their age range. Crawford claimed the tool "can dramatically underestimate the cost of insurance." But the tool only asks vague questions, such as whether the consumer's age is "49 or under" or "50 or older," and was never meant to provide exact premiums. Rather, the tool offers estimates that do not take subsidies into account:
Of course, users can obtain exact costs -- and discover if they're eligible for subsidies -- if they apply online or by phone and provide their age and income level (those buttons are displayed above the anonymous browsing tool and are far more visible.) In an effort to reduce confusion, the original design of the website required users to enter personal information, though some conservatives argued that that too was a play to prevent users from discovering the unsubsidized cost of coverage.
And while one can argue that the anonymous shopping tool should provide price ranges instead of relying on cost estimates derived from the younger ends of both age brackets, it's hard to believe that the administration would purposely mislead users about the cost of insurance by using a tool that does not take subsidies into account. Users will also discover their actual premiums once they fill out a real application, meaning that any con will be extremely short lived.
Fox recently came under fire for a Hannity special on the "victims" of the ACA. After the special aired, Eric Stern, a former senior adviser to Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, contacted the guests featured on the special and found that, despite Sean Hannity's claims, none were impacted by changes in the health care law. Wemple predicted that the three Fox shows planning on highlighting Barrette's story will also likely leave out important context:
CBS News did note that Barrette would likely qualify for subsidies that would reduce the cost of her coverage. That said, news organizations that skim the country for cases-in-point on this health-care transition have an obligation to compare similar fruits. Even though Barrette would prefer to keep her current plan, more detail on what that plan provides vis-a-vis the offerings of the new plan is a non-optional component of coverage. A middling hospital stay could well have bankrupted Barrette under her current insurance. But don't rely on "Fox & Friends" to belabor that dimension of the story.