Then last Tuesday, the day Cavallaro appeared on NBC Nightly News, she also showed up on Fox News’ Your World With Neil Cavuto where she announced her plight was “the same thing we’ve been hearing from a lot of people.” Her insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, had a plan for her that was similar to the one it was cancelling, which “would cost me 65 percent more per month than I would be paying. ” What’s more, she said the carrier couldn’t tell her much about whether her doctors would be covered or her drugs covered on the new plan’s formulary, but advised they were going to make changes. “Amazing,” said Cavuto.
On Thursday, LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik offered a mini-expose of sorts, “debunk[ing]” Cavallaro’s “Obamacare horror story,” which, he explained, was “the product of her own misunderstandings, abetted by a passel of uninformed and incurious news reporters.”
Hiltzik told me that he asked Cavallaro if she had shopped the insurance exchange, and Cavallaro said she’d contacted a broker who had shopped for her (she did mention the exchanges on CNBC, asserting “I’d be paying more for the exchange plans than I am currently paying by a wide margin.”) Apparently, the broker didn’t do a very good job of it. Because Hiltzik did a little shopping around on California’s health plan exchange—independent reporting!—and found Cavallaro was eligible for a subsidy of $200 a month, which would help give her affordable options after all, and concluded that Obamacare actually gives her “vastly more affordable” coverage than she has now. The Obamacare PR shop was so pleased with Hiltzik’s story, it sent around a press release touting the findings of Hiltzik’s shopping trip. Why didn’t reporters, other than Hiltzik, check out Cavallaro’s story—independently confirm whether her “only” options were indeed pricier than her current plan—before they spread it far and wide?
Cavallaro, appearing Friday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, told Hewitt (who asked if she felt used by the LA Times’ Hiltzik) that “in all fairness to Michael Hiltizk…he was doing a good reporting job, because he did ask the questions. And Michael, if you’re listening, I mean, I think you did ask the questions that nobody else asked.” Why didn’t any other reporters ask? (Cavallaro went on to tell Hewitt that even if she may not be paying more under Obamacare, it’s actually the “shrunken network” of doctors she’s worried about—a topic I’ve suggested reporters explore—and they have).
Hiltzik concluded in his piece that Cavallaro “has been very poorly served by the health insurance industry and the news media,” reporting that maybe Anthem didn’t properly explain her options. I raised that problem when I told the story of a Pennsylvania woman who was not advised by Aetna in its cancellation letter last summer that she might be eligible for a subsidy. In the American Prospect, Paul Waldman asserted “there’s something fishy going on here, not just from the reporters, but from the insurance companies.” But that’s another story. This post is about the media, and Cavallaro’s appearances on so many news shows suggest either that someone or some organization offered up her story or that journos lazily cribbed from each other in their effort to personalize their Obamacare “horror story” segments. (I tried to reach Cavallaro to ask how her local CBS station—her first media appearance on this topic, as far as I can tell—found her. She has not returned my calls.) More importantly, regardless of how reporters connected with Cavallaro, too many of them failed to independently investigate her statements.