It’s been overshadowed a little bit by the shutdown in Washington, but this week marked the rollout—at long last—of the Affordable Care Act, and with it came a wave of media attention. Over the next few weeks as implementation moves along, the early glitches (hopefully) get sorted out, and people sign up for insurance, we’ll pass along our take on how the press is reporting the story and offer suggestions for advancing the coverage. Here’s our look at week one.
A shout-out. Thursday’s New York Times article by Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff was a first-rate job explaining the great irony of Obamacare: the poorest of the currently uninsured will get no help. With a few exceptions, this irony—the fall-out from last year’s Supreme Court decision that allowed states to opt out of the law’s Medicaid expansion—has not been well-covered. An accompanying map and graphic bolstered the article with the Times’ typically strong multimedia content.
But what was most striking about Tavernise and Gebeloff’s article was its close look at how access to coverage breaks down along racial lines—the authors explained that many of the states rejecting expansion are in the South, where there are disproportionate numbers of poor African Americans and Hispanics who lack health insurance. “You got to be almost dead before you can get Medicaid in Mississippi,” said a 53-year-old former maintenance worker who has leg problems. A 45-year-old Hispanic housekeeper in Texas who supports two kids on $17,000 a year told the paper, “We came to this country and we are legal and we work really hard. Why don’t we have the same opportunities as others?” The piece underscored the persistent inequality in the U.S. health system—something that will affect in more subtle ways even the consumers who can afford coverage on the exchanges and who will be choosing among bronze, silver, gold, and platinum plans, each tier offering additional benefits at a higher cost.
Interview of the week. ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel got to the heart of the health reform backlash. It may be partly a problem of nomenclature, Kimmel learned from man-on-the-street interviews on Hollywood Boulevard. He asked whether people preferred Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act—which are one and the same, of course. Even in Hollywood, folks preferred the Affordable Care Act. One woman said she didn’t agree with the “Obamacare policy thing that’s going on.” Another added she didn’t like Obamacare, because she didn’t care for anything “that has to be forced.” Other streeters said they preferred the Affordable Care Act because it’s American to let people make their own choices, or because “it’s more affordable than Obamacare.”
Kimmel’s sharp take offered a new twist to what’s becoming a somewhat repetitive press narrative about health reform. It showed how effective Republican and conservative opponents have been at negatively branding health reform as the president’s baby (a branding that the president ultimately embraced). Remember Hillarycare and Romneycare? When you don’t like something in healthcare, demonize the pol who champions it.
Biased reporting. Fox News wins the prize for this one, for reasons Alex Koppelman explained at The New Yorker. A recent Fox special report focused on Andy and Amy Mangione, parents of two sons, who are in the market for new insurance. They seem like the perfect couple for story about Obamacare—but, as Koppelman points out, they are not. Andy comes from the health insurance industry and is now a VP for government relations (aka, a lobbyist) at the Association of Mature American Citizens, a group that presents itself as a conservative alternative to the AARP. As Koppelman writes, Fox reporter Jim Angle “does not appear to have ever disclosed Mangione’s work to his viewers or readers of a companion article on FoxNews.com.”
The Fox article left out plenty of other important points too, in the course of making its point: if the Mangiones choose to keep the policy they bought on the individual market with their current insurer, their prices are going to skyrocket—nearly tripling—in 2014. That’s true, but it’s not the whole picture. Koppelman’s New Yorker post essentially re-reports the Fox piece, and does a good job taking the reader through the choices, trade-offs, and different options that will be facing the Mangiones.