• When you hear the word “affordability,” understand who is using the term and why.

• Try to avoid passing along any spin as a he said/she said quote. But if you must, explain what it means. Context, context, context!

• Building on the model the AP used, explain the subsidies and how they work with real numbers. Better yet, use real people and show how subsidies will or won’t help them.

• Take some time to understand how insurance actuaries arrive at a premium. Understanding the different factors will help you explain to audiences how they will have to make some difficult trade-offs in the shopping exchanges. This will help avoid he said/she said presentations that are of little use to the public.

• Don’t be afraid to talk to actuaries, either on or off the record. Although it’s fashionable to discredit them because they work for insurance companies, they are the ones who best understand how policies will be priced, and can explain the nuts and bolts to you. That will help you spot the spin and avoid the trap of he said/she said.

• Keep in mind the dominant player in your market—insurers or healthcare providers. Knowing and understanding who is in control, big hospital systems, or the big insurance companies, will help you explain what’s going on for your audience.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from Trudy Lieberman and the rest of the United States Project team, including our work on healthcare issues and public health at The Second Opinion.

Related stories:

Medicare Uncovered: the insurers’ latest campaign

The insurance industry wins a big one

The Big Boys: Aetna’s dubious rational for raising rates

The Big Boys: An affordability puzzle

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.