Conservative media figures issued apocalyptic warnings and predictions about the consequences of passing health care reform. Yet in the five years since President Obama signed the bill into law, the number of uninsured Americans has dropped by the largest amount in four decades, insurers can no longer deny coverage for preexisting conditions, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that Obamacare subsidies will cost $209 billion less than projected.
On the anniversary of health care reform's passage, Media Matters looked back at right-wing media's most dire predictions.
In November 2009, Glenn Beck declared that the possible passage of health care reform "will be a nail in the coffin of America" and would cause the public to "all wallow in misery." Obamacare would be "the end of prosperity in America forever ... the end of America as you know it."
Rush Limbaugh argued in 2009 that Obamacare was "aimed at robbing you of your humanity and forcing you to bow down to the state." He predicted, "All of us will be slaves" because "the road to serfdom ... is paved in Obamacare."
The next year, Limbaugh forecast that health care reform would lead to "250 million uninsured."
Radio host Jim Quinn argued in January 2010 that the passage of Obamacare would bring "an insurrection. You're going to see an uprising." According to Quinn, "Your taxes are going to go through the roof. It's going to be a bloodbath."
CNBC's Jim Cramer predicted in March 2010 that Obamacare would topple the stock market, arguing it was the "single biggest impediment to the stock market going higher." (Notably, the DOW and Nasdaq neared all-time highs in March 2015.)
Cal Thomas claimed on Fox News in 2010 that while they may not "pull the plug on Granny" due to Obamacare, "they will deny her care because she's costing too much and she's too old."
Right-wing media continue to push the myth that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a "death panel" provision, and years after the birth of this smear, it continues to have an impact on public perception and find its way into Republican legislation.
When the House first introduced the health care bill that would eventually become the ACA in 2009, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed the bill would "require" end-of-life counseling for seniors to "tell them how to end their life sooner." The baseless claim was later amplified by Sarah Palin and the notion quickly gained steam as the right-wing media echo-chamber championed the idea.
Despite being conclusively debunked as Politifact's "lie of the year" in 2009, conservative media still persist in trumpeting the death panel lie. In 2014, Fox News' Eric Bolling compared the Veteran Affairs health care system to the ACA, citing them as examples of "a big, bureaucratic, government-run health care system." He concluded, "whether you believe it or not, Sarah Palin and a couple other people on the right said there will be death panels. There will be people deciding who gets what treatment and when and that's just gonna put long waiting lines on certain types of treatment. Well, if the VA isn't proving that right now, nothing is." Rush Limbaugh, Fox's Sean Hannity, and other conservative media outlets trotted out the death panel lie last year as well, in the midst of good news about enrollment and reductions in the nation's rate of uninsured people.
The death panel falsehood is still reflected in both the public's perception of the health care law as well as the Republican legislative agenda. As Sarah Kliff explained in a March 23 post for Vox, 26 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats still agree that "a government panel helps make decisions about patients' end-of-life care" is "part of the law."
The myth even continues to make its way into GOP legislation critical of the health care law. The Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg noted in a March 22 post that despite having been debunked, "the GOP's death-panel nonsense still has hold on the party" and was "written explicitly" into the House GOP's 2016 budget proposal:
Experts and professional fact-checkers have debunked the notion that the Affordable Care Act would empower a faceless government board to deny critical health-care procedures, the Obama-era equivalent of pushing inconvenient seniors onto ice floes. But the GOP's death-panel nonsense still has a hold on the party, its illogic written explicitly into the House's budget.
"This budget repeals the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an unelected, unaccountable board of 15 bureaucrats charged with making coverage decisions on Medicare," the document reads.
Major Hispanic news outlets failed to cover a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which found that 4.2 million Hispanic Americans have gained health insurance coverage since the Affordable Care Act provisions have taken effect.
On March 16, HHS reported that 16.4 million Americans, including 4.2 million Hispanic Americans, gained health insurance coverage since "several of the Affordable Care Act's coverage provisions took effect."
But major Hispanic media outlets have failed to cover the report. A Media Matters study found that from March 16 to March 19, top Hispanic news shows, Univision's Noticiero Univision and Noticiero Univision Edición Nocturna and Telemundo's Noticiero Telemundo made no mentions of the HHS report or the official ACA enrollment numbers disclosed this week.
According to NBC News, Hispanics are "the group with the largest gains in insurance" because of ACA. The New York Times reported that the "proportion of Latinos who were uninsured dropped to 29.5 percent, from 41.8 percent," far greater than the decline for white Americans from 14.3 percent to 9 percent.
Information concerning the ACA, enrollment and the law's benefits are especially important to the Hispanic community and polls have consistently found that Latinos rank health care as one of the issues most important to them. But Hispanic media outlets continue to ignore health care as an important issue, despite the fact that Latinos still lead in the share of uninsured Americans.
Fox News cited an unnamed "independent expert" to cast doubt on the veracity of recent Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers, which have exceeded 16 million Americans and are reported to have driven the largest reduction in uninsured persons in 40 years.
On March 16, the Obama administration announced that 16.4 million Americans had enrolled in insurance through the health care law since it took effect. As The New York Times reported "Since the first open enrollment period began in October 2013, the officials said, the proportion of adults lacking insurance has dropped to 13.2 percent, from 20.3 percent."
But at Fox News, high enrollment numbers and a plummeting rate in those uninsured was barely mentioned. According to a Media Matters count, the network mentioned the 16.4 million Americans who enrolled in health insurance just once in the days following the announcement in an attempt to discredit the findings. On the March 16 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, host Bret Baier briefly reported on the enrollment numbers, offering the unevidenced claim that "an independent expert says the reality is fewer than 10 million people have signed up."
Fox has consistently downplayed and twisted Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers, going as far as to skew on-air graphics to misleadingly suggest less Americans were signing up for insurance through the health care law than had been originally projected.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reported that the government's numbers differed from those of "an independent expert," who concluded only about 9.7 million people gained insurance. The lower number was based on a survey by Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, who "took into account insurance losses" during some of the years the ACA was in effect.
Fox News' Special Report promoted "GOP alternatives" proposed by Republican presidential hopefuls that would supposedly replace the Affordable Care Act if the Supreme Court strikes down the law's health insurance tax credits. But Fox's flagship program glossed over the fact that the GOP alternatives would not repair the damage and leave millions of Americans without health care coverage.
On March 4, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the opening arguments of the King v. Burwell case. The case involves whether the language of a subclause in the ACA, "Exchanges established by the State," could prevent the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who purchased insurance over the federal exchange.
During the March 11 edition of Special Report, Fox senior political correspondent Mike Emanuel highlighted "alternatives" proposed by GOP presidential contenders. The proposals ranged from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to shift health care choice back states, to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's plan to repeal ACA:
But none of the plans promoted by Fox proposed a way to help the millions of Americans left without a way to purchase affordable health insurance. As US News & World Report's Robert Schlesinger writes, the GOP "has yet to produce a plan encompassing the latter half of their 'repeal-and-replace' mantra."
Nevertheless, despite the lack of a solution for this potential human and economic disaster, right-wing media continue to baselessly pretend there is a fallback plan in the event this attack on the ACA is successful.
A RAND Corporation study released in February found that, if the Court rules against the federal exchanges, 8 million people would lose their coverage, and unsubsidized health insurance premiums would increase by 47 percent.
The Wall Street Journal called on Supreme Court justices to "vindicate federalism" by striking down health care subsidies in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but ignored the proven economic consequences such a ruling would have on the states, which has led the court in the past to refuse to inflict such harm because of those same federalist concerns.
At issue in the latest health care challenge, King v. Burwell, is whether ACA subsidies are available over the federal health care exchange website, which operates in 37 states. During oral arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed concern that the challengers' interpretation of the law -- which would deny subsidies to upwards of eight million Americans -- might be unconstitutionally coercive to those states that declined to set up their own exchange. This coercion argument was at the heart of the last ACA challenge in 2012, when the court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to threaten to deny money to states that refused to expand Medicaid, because the economic consequences would have been devastating.
In a March 5 editorial, the Journal argued that denying federal subsidies to states that refused to set up exchanges "is not the same" as denying federal funds to states that refuse to accept the Medicaid expansion. But in a brief to the Supreme Court, the states who have had to make both choices disagreed, and pointed out that the King challengers themselves had admitted this type of coercion was the same:
In [the 2012 health care challenge], the Court explained that cutting off all Medicaid funding to States that declined Medicaid expansion constituted "much more than relatively mild encouragement -- it is a gun to the head." It "crossed the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion," serving "no purpose other than to force unwilling States" to comply. In the court of appeals, Petitioners argued that the scheme they attribute to Congress was "the same" in its coercive nature as one invalidated in . In this Court, Petitioners prefer understatement, saying that "Congress could quite reasonably believe that elected state officials would not want to explain to voters that they had deprived them of billions of dollars by failing to establish an Exchange." Either way, it is a novel kind of pressure to threaten to injure a State's citizens and to destroy its insurance markets in order to force State-government officials to implement a federal program.
To avoid the comparison, the Journal also downplayed the likely destabilization of the insurance markets in the event the federal tax credits are struck down, echoing a false claim from the King challengers' lawyer, Michael Carvin, who argued in court that there was "not a scintilla of evidence" that the health insurance market would enter a death spiral without the current subsidies. The Journal editorial argued that "in the 1980s and 1990s, eight states including Kentucky, Washington and New York imposed the same rules -- without subsidies. In other words, the regulations are supposedly valuable by themselves to achieve liberal policy goals."
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is adopting right-wing media's talking points yet again, this time implausibly claiming that the Republican-controlled "Congress would act" with an alternative if the court strikes down the Affordable Care Act's health insurance tax credits.
On March 4, the justices heard King v. Burwell, a case that could make insurance subsidies unavailable to some Americans. At issue in the suit is whether a subclause in the law that says subsidies can be disbursed through "Exchanges established by the State" prohibits the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who bought insurance over the federal exchange. Despite the fact that experts agree that the law clearly makes the subsidies available to everyone, right-wing media have called on the Supreme Court to rule otherwise.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has repeatedly said that there is no contingency plan in the event of an adverse decision in King, and that there is no fix the administration can make to remedy the problem without inviting further legal challenges. Right-wing media jumped at Burwell's comments, criticizing the administration for not having a back-up plan while promoting a series of Republican "alternatives" should the court ultimately strike the subsidies down.
Conservative outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News have done their part to push these plans by hosting numerous op-eds and segments with the authors of these questionable proposals. On the March 4 edition of Fox & Friends, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) joined hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck to promote one such alternative. After Cassidy claimed that the Obama administration has "nothing to say" to consumers who might lose their subsidies, Doocy remarked that "the administration says they don't have a plan B, but apparently the Republicans do." National Review Online has also argued that the Republicans have a viable alternative plan, writing in a recent post that "Senate Republicans aren't leaving anything to chance" and that "there's some conservative intellectual firepower behind" their ideas.
As The Hill reported, these alternatives are "a direct appeal to the Supreme Court justices" that are "intended to make it easier for the court to strike down the subsidies, since Republicans believe the court is more likely to rule in their favor if it believes a plan is in place to limit the fallout."
According to the Urban Institute, 8.2 million Americans, disproportionately women and children, may become uninsured as a consequence of King v. Burwell. But for right-wing media, pointing out the dangerous consequences of the loss of health care subsidies is nothing more than a "scare tactic."
The Wall Street Journal is once again promoting a right-wing challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by repeating misinformation about the case, calling on the Supreme Court to strike down some health care subsidies while falsely claiming the law's "plain text" renders them illegal.
On March 4, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, a case that could block the availability of federal health care subsidies. The plaintiffs in King argue that because a subclause of the ACA states that subsidies are available "through Exchanges established by the State," consumers who buy insurance over the federal exchange aren't eligible to receive tax credits from the IRS to offset the cost. Without subsidies, people who live in one of the 37 states that don't operate their own health care exchange would be unable to afford insurance.
In a March 2 editorial, the Journal made its final pitch before oral arguments, calling the challenge an opportunity for "the Justices to vindicate the law's plain text." The editorial, like the challengers in King, ignored the context of the ACA as a whole and claimed that the decision to strike down the subsidies should be an easy call for the Supreme Court because the "English language is clear" and the law is unambiguous:
In King, the High Court will scrutinize this IRS decree using the traditional canons of statutory construction. The English language is clear: Congress wrote that subsidies would be available on state exchanges only, so Washington cannot deputize itself as the 51st state -- especially when the black-letter law is as consistent, tightly worded and cross-referenced as the Affordable Care Act.
To take one example, the Secretary of Health and Human Services was empowered to grant unlimited sums of money to states to establish exchanges. But the law appropriated not a penny for the federal exchanges, and HHS raided internal slush funds to build them. If there is no legal difference between the federal and state exchanges, why did HHS need this budget ruse?
ObamaCare's history shows Democrats made a deliberate choice. As they tried to assemble 60 votes in the Senate, holdouts like then Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson intensely desired state partners. Because the federal government couldn't commandeer the sovereign states by mandating participation, the subsidy bait was Congress's constitutional option to encourage buy-in.
The Journal's attempt to make the plaintiffs' case by arguing that the subsidies are illegal because the Department of Health and Human Services had to rely on a "budget ruse" to build the federal exchanges ignores the facts. According to a report from The Washington Post, the Republican-controlled Congress "repeatedly rejected the Obama administration's requests for additional funds" to implement the ACA, including those exchanges Republican-controlled states refused to set up.
Following former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's announcement that he is exploring a 2016 presidential run, Hispanic media outlets have celebrated his Mexican-American family and fluency in Spanish, portraying them as appealing to Latino voters. This focus on biographical details has come at the expense of reporting on Bush's positions on health care and climate change -- issues on which his positions are at odds with the interests of most Latinos.
For instance, Jorge Ramos, host of Univision's Al Punto, helped feed the narrative of Bush as a "Hispanic candidate" (Spanish-language video clip) during a January 18 conversation with Carlos Gutierrez, who was commerce secretary under George W. Bush. Throughout the discussion, Ramos left Bush's policy stances unquestioned, relying on Gutierrez's glowing review of Bush's personal leadership qualities. At one point, Ramos suggested that Bush could be grouped with other potential Republican presidential candidates who are Latino.
Other Spanish-language outlets like the newspaper El País have also credited Bush's Mexican wife and children with making him a "Hispanic candidate," calling these personal factors an "advantage" to win the Latino vote. Briefly glossing over his "moderate" foreign policy stances -- a popular trope in English-language media -- El País highlighted Bush's Mexican wife yet again to address Bush's claims that he is not like his brother George W. Bush. MundoFox, a Spanish-language cable channel that is partly owned by Fox News' parent company, has celebrated Bush's ability to speak Spanish fluently as well as his Mexican wife to position him as a GOP front-runner several times since Bush's announcement in December.
When Hispanic media outlets do cover Bush's policy positions, they rarely go beyond the single issue of immigration. And while it is encouraging to see positive coverage of Bush's multicultural family and bilingualism, a review of Al Punto episodes and close monitoring of El País' and MundoFox's websites following Bush's announcement reveal that they have not covered his conservative stances on climate change and health care reform.
On climate change, Bush has admitted denialism, claiming that "the science has been politicized." As The Guardian's Suzanne Goldberg wrote, Bush is in "lock-step with the other climate deniers in the Republican party."
According to recent polling from The New York Times, Stanford University, and the nonpartisan environmental group Resources for the Future, 63 percent of Hispanics, compared to 49 percent of whites, agreed that the "federal government should act broadly to address global warming." Furthermore, 54 percent of Hispanics said that global warming is "extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of whites." The Times quoted Latino Decisions researcher Gabriel Sanchez pointing out that "Hispanics often live in areas where they are directly exposed to pollution, such as neighborhoods near highways and power plants." Sanchez also said that Latinos are key advocates in the fight for climate change awareness: "There's a stereotype that Latinos are not aware or concerned about these issues. ... But Latinos are actually among the most concerned about the environment, particularly global warming." Experts agree that Hispanics are "particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts."
Similarly, Bush has criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA), calling it "flawed to its core" and a "job killer." However, the Los Angeles Times highlighted a September report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund that found the ACA "has dramatically increased coverage among Latinos," who are "a historically underinsured community." As the Times reported, the report found, ¨Overall, the percentage of Latinos ages 19 to 64 lacking health coverage fell from 36% to 23% between summer 2013 and spring 2014.¨ And according to the New York Times blog The Upshot, the "biggest winners from the law include people between the ages of 18 and 34; blacks; Hispanics; and people who live in rural areas." The Times also noted that parts of Nevada, New Mexico, and southern Texas -- all places with high percentages of Latinos -- are among the areas with the "largest increases in the health insurance rate."
Fox News is passing off the Koch-funded Libre Initiative as a grassroots organization founded "to empower Hispanics" and advance "liberty, freedom and prosperity." In reality, the group urges Hispanics to support policies that experts say go "against their own interests" and "disenfranchise Hispanic voters."
The Libre Initiative was founded in 2011 and claims to be a "non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advances the principles and values of economic freedom to empower the U.S. Hispanic community." The group "has a presence in eight states" and "plans to expand to Wisconsin and North Carolina this year and increase its staff by about 30 percent ahead of 2016."
Fox has portrayed the group as the product of "a coalition of Hispanic leadership organizations." But Libre is staffed by veteran Republican operatives, and the group has received over $10 million in funding from oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. Libre has admitted its message "aligns more with Republicans" and "with the principles and ideas of Charles and David Koch."
The group promotes the agenda of people like the Kochs at the expense of Hispanics. Libre opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which helps Hispanics get health insurance. They oppose a federal minimum wage increase, which would help more than 6.7 million Hispanics. They support voter ID laws that serve "to disenfranchise Hispanic voters." They've joined Fox News in pushing misinformation about "illegals" and immigration. Libre has also campaigned against politicians that support immigration reform due to those politicians' support of the Affordable Care Act.
In this report about the Libre Initiative and the media:
Fox News is reporting on an unsubstantiated rumor that the Obama administration has a "secret plan B" to deal with the fallout of an upcoming Supreme Court case that could invalidate tax credits for millions of Americans. But administration officials have repeatedly denied that such a plan exists -- and there is little the administration could do to restore the credits if the court strikes them down.
On March 4, the Supreme Court will hear King v. Burwell, a case that could block the availability of health care subsidies for consumers who purchased insurance over the federal exchange, which operates as the sole health insurance marketplace in the 37 states that don't operate their own. The lawsuit is based on a right-wing misinterpretation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that claims that the law allows the IRS to provide tax credits only to those who bought insurance over "Exchanges established by the State," and not the federal government. In addition to the congressional authors of the ACA, the vast majority of health and legal experts agree that this strained reading of the law is not only incorrect, but contrary to the way the Supreme Court generally interprets statutes -- as a whole, and in context.
Despite the lawsuit's clear flaws, right-wing media have acted as a booster for its potential to gut the ACA -- and only recently figured out that without the subsidies, millions of Americans would be faced with ruinous health care costs. As The New York Times explained, "if the court decides to limit federal tax credits, the result could essentially be the creation of two American health care systems. The haves -- in mostly Democratic states -- may not be impacted, while the have-nots -- in 37 mostly red states -- could face spiraling costs."
But now Republicans are attempting to shift the blame to the Obama administration by claiming that the administration actually does have a super-secret contingency plan, and multiple statements to the contrary are an effort "to influence the court ahead of the March 4 arguments," according to The Hill.
Even though the administration has said that there is no such plan -- secret or otherwise -- Fox News was happy to pass along this unsubstantiated rumor on the February 26 edition of America's Newsroom. In a report about a congressional hearing on the ACA, Fox's Doug McKelway stated that Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell would be facing questions about the administration's "contingency plans" if the tax credits are struck down. McKelway went on to report that "there are rumors circulating that senior HHS officials do have a secret plan B should the Supreme Court rule against Obamacare":
Conservative author, filmmaker, and Fox News darling Dinesh D'Souza attacked President Obama as a "boy out of the ghetto" and "vulgar man" following the president's recent appearance in a BuzzFeed video promoting health coverage through HealthCare.gov.
YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO...Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment pic.twitter.com/C9yLG4QoOK-- Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2015
I know Obama wasn't actually raised in a ghetto--I'm using the term metaphorically, to suggest his unpresidential conduct-- Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2015
TRANSLATING FOR OBAMA GROUPIES: A guy without class doesn't become a classy guy, even when he's in the White House-- Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2015
The Supreme Court will soon hear King v. Burwell, a right-wing challenge to the Affordable Care Act that could strike down the subsidies that Americans rely on to purchase health insurance. Here is a media guide to some of the health care and legal experts -- including conservative industry groups, members of Congress, and state officials -- who are asking the Court to reject the challengers' reading of the ACA, which flouts common sense and rules of statutory interpretation.
A Fox News Special Report segment hyped fears that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could impose a penalty on taxpayers who received an advanced premium subsidy to help defer the cost of health care insurance. But the report failed to note that the IRS offers penalty relief to some taxpayers.
According to The New York Times, many ACA enrollees who qualified for a subsidy and chose to have it paid in advanced based on their projected 2014 income may have to pay for subsidy overpayments. The Times explained, if "their actual income was higher -- because they got a raise or found a new job -- they will be entitled to a smaller subsidy and must repay the difference, subject to certain limits."
On the February 6 edition of Special Report, guest host Chris Wallace claimed that "many tax-payers are getting a nasty surprise courtesy of the president's health care law." White House correspondent Kevin Corke reported that millions could have to pay a tax penalty due to the overpayment of income-based federal subsidies to purchase health insurance under the ACA. Corke claimed that "millions may have underestimated their tax snapshot and now have to pay":