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.
The New York Times reported on a dangerous legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) brought by officials in states who refuse to implement their own healthcare exchanges, which has been widely trumpeted in right-wing media. But these lawsuits are based on a far-fetched theory that the law only authorized essential tax credits in state exchanges, not federal ones, a counterintuitive claim that has been widely discredited.
From the December 4 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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Fox News' Gretchen Carlson distorted comments by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to accuse him of hypocrisy after allowing some of his staff to remain on their current health plans.
After reports that Reid would allow certain staffers to keep their existing coverage, Carlson aired comments Reid made in September 2013 about whether his staff would join the Affordable Care Act's exchanges and claimed he was "changing his tune." Carlson claimed Reid said his entire staff would be on the exchanges and accused him of "total hypocrisy."
However, Reid's statements from September do not contradict his decision to allow select staff members to remain on their existing coverage. Carlson failed to distinguish between Reid's personal legislative staff, who are enrolling through exchanges as mandated by law, and the staff that serves for leadership committees, who the ACA does not require to enroll through exchanges. He and his personal Senate office staff will indeed enroll for new coverage through the exchanges, as mandated by law:
In September, Reid told reporters, "Let's stop these really juvenile political games -- the one dealing with health care for senators and House members and our staff. We are going to be part of exchanges, that's what the law says and we'll be part of that."
That's true. Reid and his personal staff will buy insurance through the exchange.
But it's also true that the law lets lawmakers decide if their committee and leadership staffers hold on to their federal employee insurance plans, an option Reid has exercised.
A Fox News segment falsely labeled as a "bailout" a temporary system to pay health insurers money they are owed by the federal government to subsidize insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act exchanges, even though the segment itself debunked the notion.
Despite the improvements that have been made to fix some of the numerous issues with HealthCare.gov, problems with parts of the website remain. Subsidies that help make the plans offered on the exchanges more affordable are paid directly from the government to insurers, but the online system that handles these payments is not ready. Bloomberg explained that a temporary system to make these payments to insurers has been set up:
The government's original plans called for the federal system to automatically determine consumer subsidies and issue payments to insurers. Instead, the companies will submit estimates that will be "trued up" by the government at a later date, according to a CMS memo provided to Bloomberg News. The work-around for insurers will be in place until the automatic payment system is ready, though CMS has no specific date for the fix, [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokesperson Aaron] Albright said.
On December 4, America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer said of the temporary payment system: "Some say it already looks like a bailout for the insurance companies. There's that B-word again." As he introduced The Washington Examiner's Byron York, Hemmer said "you could call it a bailout," which York agreed with.
But during the segment, York and co-host Martha MacCallum mentioned details that debunk Hemmer's claim that this is a bailout, noting that this is money the insurers will receive anyway and that the government and the insurers will later make sure the payments are accurate. Watch:
Daniel Durham, an executive at industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, explained to Reuters that "[o]nce the system is built, the government and insurers can reconcile the payments made with the plan data to 'true up' payments." CMS spokesperson Aaron Albright told Bloomberg that this temporary process "is consistent with how payments have been made to issuers in the Medicare program."
No bailout involved.
From the December 3 edition of Cumulus Media Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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From the December 3 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Fox's Andrew Napolitano mischaracterized the the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, pretending the law would force employers to provide insurance coverage for abortion.
On Fox's America's News HQ, network senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped a legal challenge to the ACA by Notre Dame University, which refiled a lawsuit this week contesting the law's birth control mandate. Napolitano claimed the suit is "based upon Obamacare's imposition of an obligation on Notre Dame -- full disclosure, I'm an alumnus of Notre Dame -- which forces it to acquire health insurance which provides coverage for contraception and abortion, both of which violate Catholic core teaching."
Notwithstanding Napolitano's incorrect characterization, the ACA does not require employers to pay for insurance covering abortions. Instead, it requires states to provide at least one health plan that does not cover abortion in order to accommodate employers whose religious beliefs conflict with providing abortion coverage:
Local North Carolina newspapers cited two right-wing sham think tanks and published op-eds by their staffs while often failing to note their connections to the state's Republican party and to a major conservative donor.
National Review Online (NRO) managed to inaccurately report the findings of a Kaiser Health News article on primarily Spanish-speaking enrollees in California's health insurance exchange as applicable to all Latinos.
For California's health insurance marketplace to succeed, younger and healthier uninsured persons must enroll to balance the risk pool, a demographic that is significantly Latino. Accordingly, health care reform advocates were concerned when October enrollment numbers revealed that only 3 percent of new consumers "spoke primarily Spanish," an indication that outreach to the Hispanic community may be lagging.
NRO, however, inaccurately cited Kaiser Health News' report that "fewer than 1,000 signed up" by conflating this number of primarily Spanish-speaking Californians with all Latinos in general. From NRO:
Fewer than 1,000 Latinos signed up for Obamacare in California in the law's first month, about 3 percent of the state's 31,000 enrollees.
That's an alarming number for a state where Latinos make up approximately 60 percent of the uninsured population, and it comes in spite of nonprofits and Covered California, the state's health-care exchange, spending millions on advertising and outreach to Latinos.
Such efforts don't appear to be getting it done; there are simply too many other hurdles to enrolling Spanish-speakers. The Spanish-language version of the Covered California website has asked security questions in English and misspelled Spanish words like "si" ("sí" is Spanish for "yes," but "si" means "if"), according to Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment, a philanthropy organization making efforts to enroll Latinos.
Calling the exchange's hotline is unlikely to help Latinos, either; the telephone system has given English prompts to Spanish-speakers. It lacks enough bilingual operators and the average wait-time is 18 minutes, as well. If Latinos don't want to apply over the phone or Internet, they're in a jam; Spanish paper applications won't be available until mid-December.
Slow Latino enrollment in California's new insurance exchange certainly is alarming. Some Latinos have limited English proficiency. These percentages are not interchangeable, however, as not all Latinos are primarily Spanish-speaking.
In fact, based on the 2009 American Community Survey, it is estimated that 3/4 of the Latino population speak English, 1/2 are bilingual, and 1/4 speak English only. According to the Pew Research Center, by 2020, the number of Latinos who only speak English at home will rise to 34% of the population.
It is laudable that NRO is suddenly concerned about the uninsurance problem among Latinos and the Affordable Care Act. In discussing solutions to enrollment problems, however, perpetuating stereotypes about Latinos' ability to speak English doesn't help.
The Republican strategy for the 2014 midterm elections is not a secret: tie the Affordable Care Act to vulnerable Democrats and hope it will drag them down to defeat. The road to GOP control of the Senate runs through Arkansas, where Rep. Tom Cotton (R) is challenging incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D), and Republicans are not shy about their plans to make the Arkansas race entirely about Pryor's vote for the ACA.
This narrative, and its presumption of the ACA's overwhelming political toxicity, finds expression in a December 3 Wall Street Journal article which frames the Arkansas Senate race as a referendum on Pryor's 2009 vote for the health care reform law. "Mr. Pryor's GOP opponent, Mr. Cotton, is making opposition to Mr. Obama and the health-care law the centerpiece of his campaign," the Journal observes. What's missing from the article, for all its assumptions of political fallout from Pryor's support of the ACA, is any recognition of the fact that Arkansas actually represents an unlikely Obamacare success story.
According to the Journal:
Republicans believe Democrats running in 2014 will be hard pressed to distance themselves from criticism of the health-law rollout, as well as the political burden imposed by Mr. Obama's sinking approval ratings.
Mr. Pryor still backs the law but echoes other swing-state Democrats who say it needs fixing. Mr. Pryor supports legislation that would allow people to recover health policies that were canceled because they didn't meet the law's new standards.
The health law was a big part of the political fall of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.), who lost her re-election to Republican Rep. John Boozman in 2010. Democrats hope it will be a far smaller political problem by the midterm elections, assuming the government website continues to improve and the law's benefits come to be felt more broadly.
No one is going to argue that President Obama is popular in Arkansas -- he lost the state handily to Mitt Romney in 2012 -- and it stands to reason that his signature piece of legislation would also be viewed uncharitably. But Arkansas, for all its political hostility to the ACA, is one of the states making health care reform work.
From the December 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the December 2 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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