Health Care Reform

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  • TV News Coverage Of Trump’s Policies Overwhelmed By His Wiretapping Lie

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Broadcast and cable news coverage of ruinous economic policies rolled out by the White House last week was overwhelmed by the president’s false accusation that his predecessor illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

    On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that up to 24 million Americans would lose access to health insurance over the next 10 years if the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare goes into effect. On that same day, the Trump administration unveiled an overlooked executive order that encourages cabinet secretaries and agency directors to create a plan to completely reshape a federal bureaucracy of over 2.8 million employees. And on March 16, the Trump administration unveiled its budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year, featuring proposed “massive cuts” to nondefense spending. The proposed cuts, which would offset an increase in spending on military programs and a border wall, would hit almost every facet of the federal government, but they would come down particularly hard on funding for small programs including Meals on Wheels, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.

    Yet according to Media Matters research, from March 13 to 17, President Donald Trump’s false wiretap claim dominated TV news coverage, overshadowing discussion of these important policy moves. While Trump’s lie certainly merits extensive media coverage, it’s also crucial to share details of his policymaking with the public.

    Trump ignited a media firestorm in early March when he repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping him in the midst of last year's election. Right-wing media, led by Fox News, sprang to his defense even though the president offered no evidence to support his claim. Meanwhile, legitimate reporters exposed the bizarre accusation’s source as “the right-wing fever swamps” of fringe media and reported that it was pushed by a Russian state-sponsored news network. During March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey put Trump’s wiretapping lie to rest, telling the committee, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”

    Yet nearly two weeks after Trump initially made the claim, his smear of Obama still had such an influence on television news coverage that it overshadowed every other discussion about Trump’s policy agenda last week. Media Matters identified 226 segments from March 13 through 17 that focused on Trump during evening programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Of those segments, 64 focused on Trump’s wiretapping allegations -- a figure that dwarfed every other major issue Media Matters identified. Coverage of Trump’s health care plan came in a distant second place, with 37 segments, and stories related to the portion of Trump’s 2005 tax returns obtained by Rachel Maddow ranked third (26 segments). Trump’s proposed budget outline was discussed in just 14 segments, and his executive order to reshape the federal workforce registered just four mentions.

    With television news forced to dissect and debunk Trump’s outrageous claims, coverage of pressing economic issues was eclipsed. Coverage of the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which health care experts have said would be particularly harmful to low-income Americans, seniors, and people dealing with illnesses -- could not overtake that of Trump’s wiretapping tweet, even with the Trump administration attempting to smear the CBO numbers in the press. The executive order, which was described by CNN reporter Stephen Collinson as part of Trump’s larger goal to “dismember government one dollar at a time,” barely registered in news coverage at all. And Trump’s budget cuts, which would decimate social safety net programs, were discussed 14 times during evening news coverage on March 16 and 17, while Trump’s lie about wiretapping was discussed 35 times on those two days.

    Trump’s promotion of a discredited lie accusing his predecessor of illegal conduct while in office merits extensive media coverage, but the policies he has enacted or plans to enact can be just as destructive as the misinformation he spreads. Media cannot afford to let Trump's misleading claims dominate the news cycle, drowning out crucial coverage of the pain his policies may cause the United States.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening news programming (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as the major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, from March 13, 2017, through March 17, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Trump or executive order or federal government or federal employ! or federal worker or federal workers or civil service or government workers or government worker or federal government or budget.

    The following programs were included in the data: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' NewsHour, as well as CNN's The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News' Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity, and MSNBC's For The Record, Hardball, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. This survey includes CNN’s second live hour of Anderson Cooper 360 during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.

    For this study, Media Matters included only those segments that contained substantial discussions of Donald Trump. We defined a "substantial discussion" as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States, or any segment where two or more guests discuss Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.

  • STUDY: Major North Carolina Newspapers Largely Failed To Report On The Devastating Impacts Of The GOP Health Bill

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Three of the top North Carolina newspapers largely failed to explain the major impacts of the proposed Republican health care bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA). A Media Matters analysis of originally reported articles about the bill in the Winston-Salem Journal, The News & Observer, and The Charlotte Observer found little to no mention of its impact on women and minority communities, insufficient reporting on its impact on seniors, and minimal coverage of its hidden, massive tax breaks for the wealthy.

  • Experts Explain How GOP Repeal Of The ACA Will Hurt Americans

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Cable networks have hosted a variety of health care experts to discuss the negative impact that the Republican health care bill and repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have on different aspects of the American health care system, including coverage, health care costs, Medicaid, and women’s health care.

  • This Is How Easy It Would Be For CNN To Fact-Check Tom Price's Trumpcare Lies

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    CNN moderators Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer should aggressively fact-check Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price during the network’s March 15 town hall, given the Trump administration’s penchant for spreading misinformation on health care. The town hall format amplifies the need for follow-up questions by the moderators who are informed enough on the issues to actively fact-check misleading claims.

    CNN is holding a town hall featuring Price that “will focus on the GOP’s health care bill.” This is just one of several special events CNN has held about the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Given that the network has a new emphasis on “showcasing special events,” it is particularly important for CNN moderators to fact-check participants so these events don’t simply turn into platforms for conservatives to spread misinformation.

    CNN has a unique opportunity during this town hall to hold the Trump administration accountable for the predicted effects of its proposed bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), particularly given that this is will be Price’s first prime-time cable appearance outside the friendly confines of Fox News. (Price has done the rounds on Fox, giving interviews to Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto, and Trump sycophant Sean Hannity).

    Given Price’s history of pushing disastrous health care policies and the tendency for Republican politicians to push misinformation about their health care agenda during CNN’s special events, Bash and Blitzer must utilize this opportunity to ask follow-up questions and fact-check the secretary. Here are the five ways that Price is most likely to spread misinformation given his history and the Trump administration’s official positions: 

    1. Claiming That The CBO Report On The AHCA Is Wrong Or Biased

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reviewed the AHCA and reported that it would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million in 2018, and 24 million in 2026. A consistent theme in the conservative reaction to the CBO review revolves around attacking the credibility of the organization as a mechanism for undercutting its predictions. Price echoed these attacks, tweeting that “the CBO report defies logic” and issuing an official statement claiming that the “assumptions” of the report “do not translate to the real world.”

    Despite these attacks, the CBO has a long history of making accurate predictions about health care reform legislation. Vox’s Andrew Prokop notes that the CBO’s influence derives from its “reputation as a politically neutral arbiter” and that it is viewed as “the gold standard.” In contrast to the GOP’s claims that the CBO made inaccurate predictions about the ACA, the Commonwealth Fund emphasized that the CBO was “reasonably accurate” and that its “projections were closer to realized experience than other prominent forecasters’ estimates were.” FactCheck.org’s Brooks Jackson debunked the anti-CBO talking points, illustrating that “the CBO actually nailed the overall impact of the law on the uninsured pretty closely” and “got the big picture right” on coverage estimates. Bash and Blitzer should be ready to correct attempts by Price to smear the CBO to salvage the AHCA’s chances of passage.

    2. Attempting To Downplay The Fact That The AHCA Will Cause 24 Million Individuals To Lose Their Insurance By 2026

    Price has consistently misled the public during interviews about the AHCA’s impact on insurance coverage. When asked by Cavuto if he thought it was “inevitable” that “some” people who gained insurance through the ACA marketplaces would lose it, Price said, “No. I just simply don’t believe that.” He went further during a Meet the Press interview, claiming that “we have a great opportunity to increase coverage over where we are right now.” His remark echoed misleading claims made by Trump about providing “insurance for everybody.”

    In reality, the CBO report predicts that “in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured” and that that number would rise to “24 million in 2026.” Vox explained that the AHCA’s provision to end Medicaid expansion in 2020 “would contribute to one in five Americans being uninsured.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) emphasized that “all of the historic coverage gains expected under the ACA would disappear and the uninsured rate among the non-elderly would be at or above its 2010 levels.” The CNN moderators must be aggressive in holding Price accountable for the real impacts the proposed legislation will have on millions of Americans who are currently benefitting from Obamacare.

    3. Defending His Assertion That “Nobody Will Be Worse Off Financially” Thanks To Trump’s Health Care Agenda

    The AHCA would eliminate the ACA’s means-tested subsidies and replace them with age-rated refundable tax credits. During Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked, “Can you say for certain that once this bill is passed, nobody will be worse off financially when it comes to paying for health care?” Price initially ducked the question but when Todd pressed him again, he declared, “I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially.”

    Despite Price’s bold claims, the CBO report shows that the AHCA will increase premiums for older, low-income Americans by “more than 750%.” Families USA noted that “lower income families could see their deductibles increase by as much as $5,500.” The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund explained that the AHCA “is a mass transfer of income” from working-class and middle-class Americans that cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans while cutting federal benefits for the middle and working class.” Bash and Blitzer should expect Price to try to spin his previous statements and must be ready to push back on any false characterizations of the AHCA’s impact on health care costs.

    4. Attempting To Minimize The Impact That Defunding Planned Parenthood Would Have On Women’s Health Care

    Price has a history of discounting the importance of women’s health care and has previously advocated legislation to roll back the ACA’s birth control mandate and to defund Planned Parenthood. Trump administration officials have defended the provision of the AHCA that defunds Planned Parenthood by claiming that it’s “not about denying women access to care” because they would reallocate the money to “federally qualified health care clinics.”

    Experts have debunked the conservative lie that Planned Parenthood can be replaced by community health care centers, calling it a “gross misrepresentation.” A Guttmacher Institute study found that in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” with accessible contraception services. Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood in Indiana and Texas resulted in severely negative impacts on community health, contributing to HIV outbreaks. The Washington Post reported that defunding Planned Parenthood “would leave many women without services to help them avoid pregnancy, resulting in thousands of additional births.” The CBO report found that “15 percent” of people in low-income communities “would lose access to care” as a result of defunding Planned Parenthood. CNN should use this town hall as an opportunity to press Price on reproductive rights generally and on the detrimental impact the GOP’s health care bill would have on women’s health care.

    5. Trying To Spin The AHCA’s Severe Medicaid Cuts As Boosting State “Innovation” Or “Flexibility”

    The AHCA would dramatically alter Medicaid by instituting a per capita cap on federal Medicaid spending and ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in 2020. During his interview with Cavuto, Price claimed that the AHCA would return “flexibility” to the states and allow them “the ability … to determine what is the right kind of program to care for their Medicaid population.”

    While conservatives often claim Medicaid caps -- also known as “block grants” -- will increase state “flexibility,” in reality such proposals result in the loss of services and coverage for the most vulnerable. A CBPP analysis showed that a per capita cap would result in the “loss of health coverage and less access to needed health care for tens of millions of low-income Americans.” The Kaiser Family Foundation explained that federal caps could lead states to “restrict benefits” and “result in eligibility restrictions and cost shifts to beneficiaries.” Vox noted that the rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion would take “4 million to 6 million people off the rolls” and, combined with the per capita cap, would result in “a $370 billion cut to federal funding to Medicaid over 10 years.” Given the devastating impact the AHCA will have on Medicaid, Bash and Blitzer must follow up on any general assertions of increasing state innovation.

  • Will Fox Continue Its CBO Smear Campaign With More White House Talking Points?

    Fox News Spent Days Attempting To Discredit The CBO In Advance Of Its Report Outlining That Millions Will Lose Health Insurance Under GOP Plan

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Fox News pushed White House talking points attacking the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in an attempt to discredit the nonpartisan scorekeeper before it released today’s report projecting the effects of the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare -- the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The report’s devastating findings -- that up to 24 million people would lose their health insurance coverage over the next decade under the GOP health care plan -- are now public. Will Fox News continue to borrow White House talking points to carry water for the disastrous plan?

    On March 13, the CBO reported that the number of Americans without health insurance would grow to a staggering 52 million people by 2026 under the GOP’s health care plan, AHCA, compared to an estimated 28 million who are projected to remain uninsured under current law. President Donald Trump’s administration and Republican leaders in Congress had tried to smear the CBO -- the nonpartisan research arm of Congress tasked with analysing the budgetary and economic impacts of legislative proposals -- in advance of the widely anticipated report, which many correctly predicted would find that the GOP plan will throw millions off their health insurance.

    White House officials began a campaign to discredit the CBO on March 8 when during a press briefing White House press secretary -- and renowned liar -- Sean Spicer questioned the work of the nonpartisan researchers at CBO, telling reporters that “if you're looking at the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place.” This was an about-face from what the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, stated on MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier that day when he claimed “the only question” on the CBO scoring was whether it will it be “really good” or “great” for the Trump administration. Despite his initial optimism, Mulvaney too joined in on attacking the CBO on the March 12 edition of ABC’s This Week, downplaying the effectiveness of the office’s analysis and misleadingly claiming that the agency did not score the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- also called Obamacare -- accurately. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, also blasted the CBO on the March 12 edition of NBC’s Meet The Press.

    In the hours leading up to the CBO’s March 13 report release, Fox News figures attempted to discredit the organization with talking points straight from the Trump administration. Co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed on Fox and Friends that the CBO was tricked into scoring the ACA inaccurately because it did not score the mandate as a tax, adding that the CBO fell “hook, line, and sinker” for some sort of Democratic plan to bring about single-payer health care. On America’s Newsroom, Washington Examiner columnist Byron York claimed the Trump administration’s allegation that CBO had inaccurately scored the ACA years ago was “absolutely true.” On Outnumbered, co-host Melissa Francis claimed “the CBO does get everything wrong” and complained that the CBO underestimated the cost of Medicaid expansion under the ACA. On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney’s anti-CBO talking points were rebuffed by Harvard economist and former CBO director Douglas Elmendorf, who pointed out that the office correctly predicted that the number of uninsured would fall under ACA, it accurately projected premium increases under the law, and it actually overestimated the long-term cost of enacting Obamacare.

    As soon as the CBO’s devastating report on the short- and long-term effects of repealing Obamacare and enacting the AHCA was released this afternoon, Fox News turned to discredited New York Post columnist, former Trump economic adviser, and serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey to double down on its campaign against the CBO. McCaughey slammed the report as “implausible” for finding that tens of millions would lose health insurance coverage under the Republican health care plan, but happily accepted the same report’s finding of marginal deficit reductions stemming from the repeal of health insurance subsidies to low-income Americans. From the March 13 edition of Fox’s Your World with Neil Cavuto:

    According to an independent analysis of the CBO’s Affordable Care Act estimates from the Commonwealth Fund, the office’s health care policy analysis regarding the ACA actually “proved to be reasonably accurate” and was thrown off by Supreme Court decisions and GOP political obstruction that it had no way to forecast. Even James Capretta of the conservative American Enterprise Institute warned that it may “tempting for GOP leaders to say CBO is wrong” but it would be difficult to “make a credible case” that the repeal plan would not reduce the number of people with health insurance.

  • Fox Host Presses GOP Congressman On His Characterization Of GOP Health Care Bill As "A Stinking Pile Of Garbage" 

    Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) Highlights Republican Party Civil War Over Health Care

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) doubled down on his characterization of the Republican health care proposal, the American Health Care Act, as “a stinking pile of garbage.” Massie’s criticism underscores the growing “GOP civil war” over repealing Obamacare, similar to the extensive Republican infighting over Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. From the March 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters:

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): So Congressman, let's get to these words that you have used to explain how you think of this Obamacare repeal plan. Let’s see. “It's a stinking pile of garbage.” Why did you choose those words? 

    REP THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): Probably because it was off the cuff and it was -- I committed candor. I said what I was thinking. This is a new entitlement program and it's just bad all around. I mean, there are a few good things about it, but we shouldn't replace one entitlement program with another. It's not a Republican conservative bill. 

    SMITH: OK. So it was an off the cuff remark. Is that something you're walking back at this point, to be clear? 

    MASSIE: No, it's still a stinking pile of garbage.

    [...]

    SMITH: Congressman, what sort of response are you getting to your Republican colleagues, especially using those kind of words to describe this effort? 

    MASSIE: Most of them appreciate my frankness. Most, for instance, of the Freedom Caucus. They feel that way, a lot of them haven't spoken that strongly about it. But behind the scenes, they’re -- the speaker's missing at least 40 of the votes that he needs to get to 218, and he can only afford to lose 24 votes. That's a problem in the House. Then in the Senate, it looks like Senator Paul and Senator Lee are strongly against this and other senators for different reasons. It seems dead on arrival in the Senate, but I don't even think it's going to get out of the House. 

  • Prime-Time Cable Largely Excluded Town Hall Attendees From "Resistance Recess" Interviews

    Talking Heads Drown Out Personal Stories Of Americans Threatened By Obamacare Repeal

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Cable news outlets dedicated considerable attention to the “Resistance Recess” that swept through congressional town hall meetings over the past week, as tens of thousands of Americans voiced their fear and disapproval of Republican plans to dismantle health care reform, among other issues. Yet evening and prime-time coverage of the grass-roots groundswell largely failed to include perspectives from those attendees opposed to efforts to roll back reforms.

    The week of February 18-26 marked the first congressional recess period of 2017 and created an ideal opportunity for American voters concerned with the trajectory of their government to directly petition elected officials face to face. Americans capitalized on this opportunity by flooding in-district town hall events across the country demanding that representatives on both sides of the aisle stand up to President Trump’s radical agenda. Among attendees’ demands was that elected officials present viable solutions to further the cause of health care reform beyond merely “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    Cable news outlets used the town hall turmoil as the basis for 53 evening and prime-time news segments from the start of the recess period through February 27 discussing how the demonstrations might affect the future of health care reform in the United States. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these discussions failed to include input from people voicing disapproval with Republican plans to repeal or significantly alter the ACA at those town halls. Media Matters identified 88 guests during evening and prime-time cable programming related to the town halls -- mostly reporters and political pundits. Only three of the 88 guests were town hall attendees affected by the outcome of this health care debate.

    The February 27 edition of MSNBC’s All In did feature an impassioned interview with cancer survivor and Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, who, though not identified as a town hall participant, outlined how the ACA granted her access to what would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive life-saving treatments. All three of the actual town hall attendees were featured in two segments aired during the February 22 edition of MSNBC’s For the Record, which featured constituents who attended town halls hosted by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). In the first segment, an Arkansas constituent named Suzie Bell, who co-founded a rural free health clinic, questioned why Cotton wanted to restrict access for the patients she serves. In the next segment, Louisiana constituents Laura Kelley and Shawon Bernard expressed the collective “frustration” of fellow attendees about a laundry list of issues, including the future of the ACA:

    MSNBC featured the most guests (46) and the most segments (29) focused on the town halls, but only two segments featured the three aforementioned town hall attendees. CNN featured 30 guests across 18 segments, but no town hall attendees in prime-time. Fox News lagged far behind the competition, featuring just 12 guests during 6 segments discussing the town hall protests and also failed to include any attendees.

    CNN's failure to book any town hall attendees during evening or prime-time slots is particularly perplexing given that the network did interview town hall attendees outside of the influential prime-time window. On the February 22 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Brooke Baldwin interviewed Rose Perkins, whose dressing down of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at a town hall the day before had already become a viral sensation. Meanwhile, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon interviewed Kati McFarland, a young woman who credits the ACA with keeping her alive despite her chronic, life-threatening illness and whose heartfelt plea to Cotton created an uproar. But the piece didn’t air until 12:19 a.m. on Saturday, February 25. (McFarland was also interviewed by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi during daytime programming on February 23.)

    The nationwide coalition of demonstrators, which progressive groups like MoveOn.org have dubbed the “Resistance Recess,” found many Republican members of Congress unprepared to face tough questions. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that many constituents stand to lose their health insurance or see their premiums soar if Trump and the GOP succeed in gutting the ACA. Rather than simply reporting on the abstract optics of these demonstrations, media outlets need to focus on the human beings who dedicated their time to safeguard legislation that benefits millions of Americans every day.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and SnapStream search of transcripts of cable evening and prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from February 18 through February 27, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: affordable care act or aca or obamacare or healthcare or health care or protester or demonstrator or townhall or town hall.

    The following programs were included in the data: The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, Hardball, For the Record, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.