Obamacare keeps delivering. Why won’t media notice?

The statistics are pretty stunning:

  • The rate of uninsured Americans has fallen by 30 percent. Some 10 million more Americans are insured now than were before the Affordable Care Act was passed.
  • In states that expanded Medicaid at almost no cost to them, the uninsured rate fell by 36 percent.
  • The rate of health care inflation has fallen to the lowest rate since the U.S. government started tracking it — only a 3.6 percent increase overall in 2013.
  • Hospital-acquired infections have fallen by 17 percent since 2012. Some 50,000 lives have been saved.
  • Most premiums for policies purchased through the ACA stayed the same or rose only modestly. Some actually fell. Increased competition brought policy prices down.
  • Since Nov. 15, the beginning of the new open enrollment period for buying health insurance, some 1.5 million people have bought policies or opened an account to buy a policy. And the number keeps growing daily.

Some of these details are from a new report in the December 2014 issue of Health Affairs. “Medicare spending growth decelerated from 4.0 percent in 2012 to 3.4 percent in 2013, primarily as a result of slower growth in enrollment, the impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the federal budget sequestration of 2013,” the report said.

So — more people covered, costs going up less, an ACA website working well, a big drop in hospital infections. Sounds great, right? So what part of Obamacare makes news?

Really, only two things are garnering any news coverage. One is a kerfuffle over a year-old recording of MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who served as an adviser to provide economic models for the ACA, making a dumb statement that the law was written a certain way because voters were “stupid.” Of course, the House is holding hearings. A story on Politico trumpets the big headline “Will Jonathan Gruber topple Obamacare?” Before the mid-term elections, Fox News was all Gruber, all the time, when it wasn’t all Ebola, all the time. And media outlets continue to incorrectly report that he was the “architect” of the ACA, when in fact it was mostly written by congressional staffers, who write most legislation.

The other story came from remarks by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) suggesting that Democrats made a political mistake by passing the Affordable Care Act instead of doing more to boost the economy with some unspecified economic engine measure. Never mind that the 2009 stimulus package, although not perfect, was the best that could be wrung out of Congress at the time, and Congress wasn’t about to spend a penny more in stimulus funds. (It also saved the economy, by the way.) Schumer’s remarks were the basis of several “Democrats in disarray” stories.

An article in New York magazine outlines the media’s biggest hits and misses when it comes to the ACA. Entitled “4 New Studies Show Obamacare Is Working Incredibly Well,” the story references a study by the Urban Institute, a Kaiser Health News analysis, a report from Vox.com, and a report from the Centers from Medicare & Medicaid Services, also referenced in the Health Affairs study.

Yet many Americans still don’t understand what the law does. You would think the media would be interested in explaining a law that has revamped much of the way we get health insurance, but four and a half years after passage, Americans are still waiting for those explanations, for the most part.

Chuck Todd, now host of NBC’s Meet the Press, once famously said that it “wasn’t his job” to explain the ACA. Really, Chuck? You make a seven-figure salary, and you can’t be bothered to explain how the law affects Americans? No wonder people are confused. It’s a lot easier — and lazier — to run a sound bite of a Republican telling a lie about the effect of the ACA than it is to explain to people how their coverage has improved. Death panels, anyone?

Kentucky, for example, has a popular and effective health care exchange called Kynect. The program expanded coverage to the tune of nearly half a million people. Yet many residents of the state say they love Kynect but hate Obamacare — even though the program wouldn’t be possible without the ACA. In the mid-term election, Sen. Mitch McConnell, poised to become the GOP Senate majority leader, told Kentuckians he would keep Kynect but get rid of Obamacare. And he didn’t get called out on the lie. (Of course, his Democratic rival, Allison Lundergan Grimes, refused to point out the error and embrace the popular program. One of the many reasons she lost.)

To be fair, some media outlets have made some attempts to explain the effects of the law. The same Politico piece refers to a guidebook about the law itself that goes through many of the law’s parts, step by step. The excellent health care reporter Julie Rovner probably led everyone else in ACA coverage when she was at National Public Radio, explaining complexities and answering questions from listeners. Even though she’s now the Robin Toner Distinguished Fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, her reporting can still be heard on NPR when the network is doing an ACA story. What the media need to do now is explain how the ACA is affecting Americans today — how it has changed details about coverage and care.

So roll your eyes at Gruber-gate (or is it Gruber-ghazi?) in the House hearings. Watch as Democrats wring their hands, running away from a law they should be embracing. And be thankful that

  • Children can stay on their parents’ health insurance coverage until they’re 26.
  • Insurance companies no longer can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • Preventive care is covered 100 percent. So even if the flu strain has mutated, get a flu shot. It won’t cost you anything.
  • Millions of people across the country have health insurance who didn’t before. That’s the biggest and best take-home message of all.


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