The coalition, says Austin, has had “good success with roundtables and the press has covered them.” Roundtables where local business people discussed the implications of the tax got good play in Nebraska, where KHAS-TV in Hastings sent a reporter to cover one, where it quoted a business owner who said the tax “should be a concern to everyone that’s a citizen in this country.” The New Britain (CT) Herald covered a similar event and produced a similar story, passing along the sentiments of the head of the local Chamber of Commerce.
How large a budget does the coalition have? “I’m not sure we want to share that,” Austin said. “Lean and mean is our mantra. We’re pitching things and hope people run it. We’re not paying for ads.” That brings up the matter of the insurance industry and its money. Students of health reform might should recall that AHIP, the insurers trade group, secretly channeled $86 million to the US Chamber of Commerce to fight health reform and defeat the public option.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, AHIP’s full name, is not an official member of the coalition—at least it’s not listed as one on the coalition’s website. But it, too, is fighting the tax. Last summer insurers announced a partnership with the National Federation of Independent Business “to get out the facts about the impact the premium tax will have on the cost of coverage, and to build bipartisan support to prevent it from going into effect in 2014.” That objective includes raising awareness through new media. AHIP wouldn’t talk about its efforts—its PR guy said “our blog should have the information you need.” He offered links to studies the group has made public.
How to cover all this? Unfortunately, the stories I saw about this appeared to be mere conduits for the Coalition’s point of view. Being a conduit for press releases on an advocacy issue is a no-no, and so is passing along quotes from opponents without balance, analysis, and context. This story deserves a lot of reporting and context. What are other experts saying about the tax, not just those which the coalition cites? Reporters might start at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies this stuff. They might want to research the legislative history of the bill, to see why lawmakers wanted the tax in the first place.
Meanwhile, if the HIT squad is successful in repealing the tax, that raises a much bigger question: who will pay for the subsidies for the uninsured—the heart of health reform—if opponents succeed in whittling away the funding sources (and if the Supreme Court upholds the law)?
I asked Austin that question. She answered by raising another. “Are we under the impression the law is fully funded? It will probably need more money whether the tax goes away or not.” And that, dear colleagues, gets to an under-reported question the media need to address.