America's top newspapers focused their coverage of health care reform on its political implications while largely ignoring its real-world impact in the week before the health care exchanges opened. Those papers have since shifted their focus, with most articles highlighting benefits under the law and enrollment in the exchanges in the week after the Obama administration relaunched the Healthcare.gov website.
Fox News' Steve Doocy falsely claimed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes wellness programs "illegal" when, in fact, the law expands them.
On the December 18 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy interviewed attorney Eric Miller, who had received notice from his insurer that he was being transferred to a new health insurance policy. Miller's old plan provided incentives for healthy behavior, such as mandatory doctor visits and exercise. After Miller complained that his new plan would not offer the same benefits, Doocy claimed "so you got a discount under your old plan because you were healthy. But under Obamacare, that's going to be illegal, right?":
The ACA not only does not make wellness programs illegal, it provides added incentives and grants to expand such programs. A Department of Labor fact sheet pointed out that the law "creates new incentives and builds on existing wellness program policies":
Men are under threat. Despite the fact that women still make less than men do, are hugely underrepresented in media, and face so much sexism on a daily basis that Republicans actually have to undergo training to learn how to talk to women in non-offensive ways, conservative media would like you to know that it's really men who have it tough.
The "War on Men" is waged on multiple fronts, from elementary school classrooms to the workplace to men's own marriages. Nowhere is safe. So to help the besieged men out there, here is a list of all the things conservative media said were examples of the "War on Men" in 2013.
1. Kids Don't Play "Tag" Anymore.
In September, National Review Online hosted a debate which asked "Is there a war on women? Or is it a war on men?" An example of the suffering of men, according to the panel, was that "schools are replacing boys' favorite game, 'tag,' with a more female-friendly alternative called 'circle of friends.'" As Alice Munro noted in the New Republic, this isn't true.
2. "Female Sexual Freedom."
The "War on Men" really began with contemporary feminism in the 1960s, according to Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto, when women dared "to be equal to men" and wanted "sexual freedom":
MARY KISSEL: [W]hen did this war on men begin? Can you pinpoint a starting point?
TARANTO: Well, it all goes back to the beginning of contemporary feminism in the early '60s. You know, women wanted to be equal to men, they wanted to be able to do all the sort of professional things including the military that men could do, and --
KISSEL: Was there anything wrong with that, though, James? I mean, that sounds --
TARANTO: Well, that's too long to go into now, the question of what's wrong with that, but in addition they wanted sexual freedom. Well what is female sexual freedom? It means, for this woman, that she had the freedom to get drunk, and to get in the backseat of the car with this guy. There was another woman who accused him, he was acquitted in this case, of sexual assault. This so-called assault happened in his bedroom, to which she voluntarily accompanied him, even the jury said that was consensual.
According to conservative media, the Affordable Care Act's mandate that insurance companies can no longer discriminate is the same as "sticking it to men" and waging a "war on bros." In reality, the law makes sure insurance companies can't force women to pay more for health care just because they are women.
4. "Feminized" Schools Have Rules, Standards.
The "War on Men" starts "as a war on boys," according to NRO's Helen Smith, which manifests when schools "take away recess" and adopt "a feminized approach to schools to the point where it is mainly for those who conform, sit still, and like to follow rules."
5. Sometimes, Men Are Accused Of Sexual Harassment.
Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto fights the "War on Men" on a regular basis. In June, he dismissed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, claiming that efforts to address the enormous problem contributed to the "war on men" and were an "effort to criminalize male sexuality." Taranto conveniently ignored the fact that many victims of sexual assault in the military are also male, and that most men probably don't agree that "male sexuality" necessarily includes having sex with drunken women in cars.
6. Commercials And Sitcoms Make Men Look Stupid.
In 2012, FoxNews.com columnist Suzanne Venker claimed that a factor in the "War on Men" was that "Women aren't women anymore," because now they have college degrees and have sex outside of marriage. In 2013, she took this probing analysis further, saying that men -- who are "second class citizens" -- are under threat because Title IX forbids discrimination in college sports and because of "sit-coms and commercials that portray dad as an idiot."
7. Women Work Full-Time Jobs.
In December, Venker uncovered yet another layer in the war on men: women these days are "financially independent," and despite the "simply irrefutable" fact that they "prefer part-time work," many continue to insist on working full-time jobs, harming men's ability to fulfil their natural inclination to be primary breadwinner.
8. Women Would Like To Make The Same Amount Of Money Men Do.
At FoxNews.com, Carrie Lukas argued that President Obama's nominee to the Office of Personnel Management was the new "general" in the "war on men's pay," because she was tasked with attempting to close the gender wage gap in government salaries. Lukas baselessly claimed that this would result in men being paid less money in order to make up the difference -- literally the opposite of what was intended, which was to pay women more.
9. "Obama's America."
Finally, WSJ editor James Taranto blamed "Obama's America" for waging the "War on Men" with the sexual harassment regulations under Title IX, which he claimed unfairly police men's sexuality.
Fox News attacked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney for accurately pointing out that the Affordable Care Act has led to millions in refunds for health insurance consumers, falsely claiming his statement was "Obamacare spin."
During a December 16 press briefing, Carney highlighted the refunds that health insurance consumers received because of a provision in the ACA that requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of premium funds on health care services. Companies that spend more than 20 percent of the premium dollars they take in on administrative costs like salaries and marketing must reimburse consumers for the lost value.
Fox & Friends co-hosts attacked Carney's statements on December 17 while an on-screen graphic labelled Carney's comments "Obamacare Spin." Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that Carney had "tried to sell the line" that millions have already seen savings. Doocy and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck went on to ridicule Carney's point:
DOOCY: Don't you think if there was a line of people, they would be right behind him? 'I saved 300 bucks, I saved 900 bucks, Our deductible got lower.'
HASSELBECK: Right, with signs.
DOOCY: Where are those people?
HASSELBECK: Maybe make a t-shirt. You know, they would be there.
HASSELBECK: Well, you know who is on to that? Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said no, those people that you're talking about, Jim Carney, they don't exist. It's actually getting worse.
But the savings that Carney mentioned do exist. According Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services data, "the 77.8 million consumers in the three markets covered by this 80/20 rule saved $3.4 billion" in up-front medical costs in 2012 and a further "$500 million in rebates, with 8.5 million enrollees due to receive an average rebate of approximately $100 per family." As CMS noted, counsumers could receive these rebates as checks in the mail, a direct reimbursement to the account used to pay for the plan, a deduction from the following year's premium, or if coverage was employer-sponsored, the employer could receive the rebate directly -- but would be required to use the funds "for your benefit." These savings were an increase from 2011:
Fox News fabricated a connection between the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and a recent consumer survey to conclude that the law is hurting the economy in time for the holiday shopping season.
On the December 16 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, guest host Stuart Varney and Fox Business contributor Elizabeth MacDonald claimed that the ACA is depressing holiday spending. Their claims, based on a consumer survey released by Bankrate.com, showed that 38 percent of respondents plan to spend less during the holidays this year than the previous year.
Varney and MacDonald surmised that the health reform law is driving more Americans into less lucrative part-time work and, in turn, dragging down workers' ability to engage in commerce. MacDonald added "there is concern on the part of businesses over health reform," citing information from the Federal Reserve:
Varney and MacDonald's claims are unfounded.
The survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, makes zero mentions of the ACA or health reform and trends for most surveyed indicators -- from holiday spending and job security to personal savings and financial security -- are largely flat from year-to-year.
Furthermore, MacDonald's claim that the Federal Reserve Beige Book indicates a sense of unease in the business community regarding the ACA is a significant exaggeration. The Fed's most-recent official statement recognizes "concern about future cost increases attributable to the Affordable Care Act and other types of federal regulation," but lists no examples of those costs or any other negative consequences currently assigned to the law.
The "Obamacare Part-Time Jobs Myth" has also been easily dispelled by actual economists, including some of the same outlets that initially pushed the claims. Fox News has spent years blaming the Affordable Care Act for every hiccup in the economy including the unfounded claim that Obamacare forces employees into part-time work, or destroys jobs altogether.
Fox News again acted as the communications arm of the GOP, promoting a health care plan from Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) that could leave millions without coverage, do nothing to constrain the rise of health costs, and allow insurers to discriminate against patients with preexisting conditions.
On the December 16 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck interviewed Price, presenting his proposal, the Empowering Patients First Act, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that "could save this country trillions of dollars." While an on-air graphic described Price's plan as an "Obamacare alternative," Hasselbeck endorsed the proposal, saying, "[w]e have the support behind you on this in terms of what I've read so far."
But Fox's endorsement of Price's plan glossed over significant flaws with the bill, including the fact that Price's proposal has already failed twice in Congress and that plans like Price's have been tried, and failed, in the past. As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reported in 2009, The Empower Patients First Act "won't work" as its "version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly." According to Klein, Price's plan fails to include an individual mandate that would ensure the coverage pool would include both healthy and sick consumers and does nothing to prevent insurers from cherrypicking enrollees. As Klein noted, "this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California":
Price's bill has a couple of good ideas in it: Automatic enrollment, for one thing. And extending the employer tax deduction to individuals while capping it at "the average value of the national health exclusion for Employer Sponsored Insurance (family/singles) grown at inflation." This amounts to a huge tax increase, incidentally, although Price won't call it that.
But the plan won't work. In particular, its version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly. There's no individual mandate ensuring that the pool includes both healthy and sick individuals, no insurance market regulations stopping insurers from cherrypicking, and no risk adjustment rebalancing the scales when they do. In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California. Price isn't learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.
Price also endorsed selling insurance across state lines, a proposal that the New America Foundation found would increase premiums for many consumers while decreasing the level of coverage:
The New America report, entitled, "Across State Lines Explained: Why Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines is Not the Answer," found that under across state lines proposals premiums would increase for many people, health insurance benefits would become less generous, and more Americans would likely become uninsured over time.
"Selling health insurance across state lines would have a devastating impact on the health insurance marketplace and will not work for many Americans. This approach fails to introduce the incentives necessary to move insurers to a 21st Century business model that prioritizes care coordination and high value care over marketing and underwriting," said Len M. Nichols, Director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation and coauthor of the report.
"In fact, selling health insurance across state lines represents a step backwards not only for the health insurance marketplace, but also and more importantly for the American people who struggle everyday to secure quality, affordable coverage," Nichols continued.
Fox's decision to highlight Price's proposal is just another example of the network's long history of work as the communications arm of the GOP. The information provided on the plan, including figures pushed by Holtz-Eakin, who served as CBO director under President George W. Bush and policy advisor to then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, comes directly from Price's own talking points.
Fox News' special "Behind the Obama Breakdown" prominently featured the Koch brothers-funded organization Generation Opportunity, an anti-health care reform group seeking to deter young people from signing up for Obamacare coverage, without ever acknowledging the political bias behind the organization.
On December 13, Fox aired a special report hosted by Bret Baier called "Behind the Obama Breakdown." The report opened and closed with segments on Generation Opportunity, an organization that travels to colleges around the country to encourage millenials to opt out of signing up for coverage on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. Baier described the group as "young, political activists mobilizing against the president's signature legislation" and "community organizer[s]," airing footage of Gen Opp rallies, headquarters, and interviews with Evan Feinberg, the organization's president. Feinberg's remarks often drove the special's narratives, placed between new topics to introduce a new theme to viewers.
The hour-long report featured Feinberg and Generation Opportunity multiple times throughout it, totaling more than six minutes of coverage to the group. Baier allowed Feinberg to repeatedly push his anti-health care agenda, encouraging young people not to sign up for health insurance on the ACA.
Neither Baier nor Feinberg ever acknowledged that the organization is financed by the Koch brothers. The group received $5.04 million from "Freedom Partners," a conservative lobbying group funded by the Koch brothers. The funding is responsible for a series of anti-Obamacare ads featuring a "Creepy Uncle Sam" -- who also made appearances in Fox's special -- to provoke fear about the government and deter young people from signing up for the ACA.
Narrating over shots of a Generation Opportunity tailgate, Baier said of the group's mission: "This is more than a pregame tailgate bash. It sounds a lot like a call to civil disobedience." What Baier characterizes as "civil disobedience" -- opting out of the ACA -- may have dangerous consequences for young adults. Without insurance, young people will be responsible for the full costs of any injuries, illness, or preventive care. And when the average cost to treat even a broken leg without health insurance is over $10,000, footing the bill is unlikely to be affordable for young people.
Fox has hidden the people behind Generation Opportunity before, and its repeated spotlight on the organization fits with the network's continuing efforts to discourage millennials from signing up for health insurance, a campaign which ignores the fact that many young adults are eager to buy health insurance under the new ACA provisions.
Fox Business host David Asman baselessly speculated that health care reform's Medicaid expansion could bankrupt states, a prediction at odds with economic experts who have declared the expansion "a very favorable financial deal for states."
The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid programs to provide coverage for people whose income falls below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Initially, the federal government covers the full cost of new enrollees. After 2016, the federal government will continue to pay 90 percent of the program's cost.
On the December 11 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, Asman warned that new Medicaid enrollees who became eligible for coverage due to the Affordable Care Act's would be covered at "an extraordinary extra cost to taxpayers." Asman went so far as to claim the cost could bankrupt states:
ASMAN: States are spending 30 - 40 percent of their entire budget on Medicaid. And as these more people sign on to Medicaid because of Obamacare, they're going to not only cost us taxpayers more money on the federal level, but they may make some states go bankrupt, because they won't be able to keep up with all those extra Medicaid patients.
Expanding Medicaid would not only not bankrupt states, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), it "will add very little to what states would have spent on Medicaid without health reform." CBPP found that "Expanding Medicaid is thus a very favorable financial deal for states":
Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable. All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study.
Fox News allowed the president of Koch brothers-funded Generation Opportunity, which has created a series of anti-Obamacare ads, to characterize the organization as "independent" and funded by "a variety of donors."
On the December 9 edition of Fox News' On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren played a new attack ad from Generation Opportunity, which encouraged young Americans to "opt out" of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After providing Generation Opportunity President Evan Feinberg a platform to promote his organization and attack the ACA, Van Susteren asked, "Where do you get the money," specifically inquiring whether Generation Opportunity is funded by any "influential group." Feinberg maintained that Generation Opportunity is "an independent organization":
VAN SUSTEREN: Where do you get the money, because that looked like a pretty expensive ad. Where do you get the money?
FEINBERG: Oh, we've got a variety of donors, and we're just focused on working with people across the country who care deeply about helping our generation to fight for our own freedom.
VAN SUSTEREN: I guess I ask why, you know, I'm wondering if there is some very influential group that funds you and sort of, that, as a consequence you've got to take some marching orders from some other group, or how independent are you?
FEINBERG: Oh no, we're an independent organization that's able to fight for our peers and you see these ads are really creative opportunities to very inexpensively reach millions of young people.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal erroneously claimed that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is providing special treatment to part of his staff by not requiring them to purchase insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange, despite the fact that the law does not require leadership staff members to participate in the exchange.
A December 7 Review-Journal editorial attacked Sen. Reid for not forcing his leadership staff off of their employer-based coverage and onto the health insurance exchanges before misleadingly claiming that the GOP had "no culpability" in obstructing improvements for the ACA:
The Affordable Care Act requires the official staffs of each federal lawmaker to abandon their medical coverage through the Federal Employee Health Benefit program and purchase subsidized insurance through the law's exchanges. But, as reported Thursday by the Review-Journal's Steve Tetreault, the law allows the staff of congressional committees and leadership offices to stay off the exchanges and keep their current benefits, if their lawmaker bosses so decide.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., nonetheless diverted their entire staffs to the exchanges to obtain health insurance. Sen. Reid did not.
Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Sen. Reid, said her boss is following the law and has proposed a fix to the staff coverage discrepancy, but Republicans won't go along. Imagine that: The GOP, which has no culpability in this mess, actually wants something in return for votes that are politically beneficial to Democrats whose poll numbers are tanking.
The attack on Sen. Reid is an attempt to score political points in an on going partisan battle over the ACA. The Review-Journal and conservative opponents are criticizing Reid for following the Grassley Amendment, an amendment to the ACA proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that forced members and legislative staff onto the exchanges instead of allowing them to keep their own employer-based insurance as millions of Americans have under the ACA. This tweak to the ACA law made the decision to place leadership committee staff on the exchanges optional.
A New York Times article highlighted positive stories of people gaining coverage from the Affordable Care Act's exchanges -- a departure from the media's history of ignoring the law's success stories in favor of overwhelmingly negative coverage.
The media has overwhelmingly turned to negative anecdotal stories in covering the implementation of the ACA's exchanges. In The American Prospect, Paul Waldman argued that the media's tendency to use negative "exemplars" in health care coverage dramatically overemphasizes negative consequences of the law, often employing misleading reporting in order to manufacture "victims" of the law:
As the Affordable Care Act approaches full implementation, we're seeing a lot of exemplar stories, and I've been noticing one particular type: the story of the person who seems to be getting screwed. If it were true that most Americans were indeed being made worse off by the law, that would be a good thing; we'd learn their stories and get a sense of the human cost of the law. The trouble is that in the real world, there are many more people being helped by the law than hurt by it, and even those who claim to be hurt by it aren't being hurt at all.
Journalists have a natural inclination to cover bad news over good and to be skeptical of the government, which is usually healthy. But if you aren't careful it can also lead to misleading reporting. If you're going to do a story presenting one person as a victim of the law, it might be a good idea to make sure they are what you say they are.
Waldman cited a report from the NBC Nightly News as an example of how the media's coverage of health care consequences can be misleading. The segment highlighted a Los Angeles real estate agent whose premiums were higher after her insurer cancelled her plan and she looked for replacement coverage on the exchange. Waldman pointed out that the segment left out crucial context, such as whether she was eligible for subsidies and what level of coverage her current plan provided. A CBS News segment had similar problems, interviewing a woman named Dianne Barrette who lost her existing coverage and found replacement plans to be much more expensive. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple criticized the report, pointing out that Barrette's current plan was "a pray-that-you-don't-really-get-sick 'plan'" and "could well have bankrupted her."
Fox News' Sean Hannity faced criticism after hosting three couples who professed to be "victims" of the health care law. After Eric Stern, a former senior adviser to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, contacted the three couples after the show aired, he found that none of them had actually been negatively impacted by the law or had even attempted to shop for coverage on the exchanges that they were complaining about:
In a post on National Review Online about a series of lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, editor at large Jonah Goldberg misled about the mandate, how contraception actually works, and then asked why conservatives are considered the "aggressors in the culture war".
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. Even though the plaintiffs are for-profit, secular corporations, they want to claim an unprecedented exemption from a generally applicable law -- the ACA's contraception mandate -- because the individual owners of the companies claim their religious opposition to birth control is constitutionally more significant.
Goldberg viewed this opposition as evidence of Democrats "getting deeply involved in the reproductive choices of nearly every American," arguing that the "conventional narrative" that "conservatives are obsessed with social issues" is thus unfair. Goldberg also significantly underestimated the impact a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would have on well-established First Amendment and corporate precedent.
From Goldberg's December 5 post:
Maybe someone can explain to me how, exactly, conservatives are the aggressors in the culture war? In the conventional narrative of American politics, conservatives are obsessed with social issues. They want to impose their values on everyone else. They want the government involved in your bedroom. Those mean right-wingers want to make "health-care choices" for women.
Now consider last week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider two cases stemming from Obamacare: Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. Democratic politicians and their fans on social media went ballistic almost instantly. That's hardly unusual these days. But what's revealing is that the talking points are all wrong.
Suddenly, the government is the hero for getting deeply involved in the reproductive choices of nearly every American, whether you want the government involved or not. The bad guy is now your boss who, according to an outraged Senator Patty Murray (D.,Wash.), would be free to keep you from everything from HIV treatment to vaccinating your children if Hobby Lobby has its way. Murray and the White House insist that every business should be compelled by law to protect its employees' "right" to "contraception" that is "free."
[B]irth-control pills really aren't the issue. Both companies suing the government under Obamacare have no objection to providing insurance plans that cover the cost of birth-control pills and other forms of contraception. What both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties object to is paying for abortifacients -- drugs that terminate a pregnancy rather than prevent one. (Hobby Lobby also opposes paying for IUDs, which prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.) The distinction is simple: Contraception prevents fertilization and pregnancy. Drugs such as Plan B may terminate a pregnancy, albeit at an extremely early stage.
The plaintiffs in these cases aren't saying the government should ban abortifacients or make it impossible for their employees to buy them. All they are asking is that the people using such drugs pay for them themselves rather than force employers and co-workers to share the cost. In other words, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood want such birth-control decisions to be left to individual women and their doctors. Leave the rest of us out of it.
To answer Goldberg's initial question: conservatives are generally thought of as "the aggressors in the culture war" because they have dedicated countless legislative hours to passing unconstitutional abortion laws, have attempted to confer personhood on fertilized eggs, and often voted to defund clinics like Planned Parenthood, eliminating access to crucial family-planning services. In 2012, Republicans in Virginia tried to pass a bill that would have forced women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before obtaining an abortion -- a requirement that would have violated the federal definition of rape. Most recently, congressional Republicans threatened to shut the government down due to their opposition to access to contraception.
From the December 5 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News falsely claimed that HealthCare.gov does not allow anonymous shopping in order to stoke fears about security issues with the website. But the website has long had a window shopping feature, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on December 2 that it had improved the anonymous shopping feature, which allows for accurate insurance plan comparisons without entering sensitive personal information.