The Times Promotes Obamacare’s “Success”

November 10, 2014


As repeatedly outlined by Accuracy in Media, the failures of Obamacare have become so egregious that even The New York Times had to admit that this legislation’s customers are sometimes unable to pay their deductibles, and therefore unable to visit the doctor even while supposedly having purchased affordable coverage.

But not to be deterred by its own reporting on the subject, the Times recently asked whether the Affordable Care Act is “working,” and concluded before the election that the legislation has “largely succeeded” after just one year. However, they assert, its shortcomings have “given rise to a powerful conservative backlash.” In other words, the paper feels it must explain away opposition to Obamacare using a conservative straw man, despite the legislation’s many flaws.

Many in the media seem personally invested in estimations of the ultimate “success” of Obamacare, and these Times reporters assessing this law’s successes, or lack thereof, are no different. In fact, Paul Krugman, also of the Times, recently wrote for Rolling Stone magazine that “health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward—and it’s working better than anyone expected.”

But the success of the health care legislation depends not on your “perspective,” or what the “data says,” but what you measure and what questions you ask, and that is where The New York Times consistently misinforms its readers.

The paper asks, and attempts to answer, seven questions:

1.     Has the percentage of uninsured people been reduced?

2.     Has insurance under the law been affordable?

3.     Did the Affordable Care Act improve health outcomes?

4.     Will the online exchanges work better this year than last?

5.     Has the health care industry been helped or hurt by the law?

6.     How has the expansion of Medicaid fared?

7.     Has the law contributed to a slowdown in health care spending?

Margot Sanger-Katz writes that the number of uninsured has been reduced because “the number of Americans without health insurance” has gone down “by about 25 percent this year—or eight million to 11 million people.” However, according to a Heritage Foundation analysis, this may actually represent just “a net increase in private-sector coverage of 2,465,586 individuals.” That’s because 71% of the overall health insurance coverage gain was “attributable to Obamacare expanding Medicaid to able-bodied, working-age adults.” The Times’ Sanger-Katz understated this important message this way: “Most notably, Medicaid expansion really mattered.”

What matters is that the federal government is spending more on health care as a result of the Medicaid expansion, and has provided a perverse incentive for companies—causing them to search for loopholes to get outside the law’s job-killing regulations. As mentioned in my previous article, The Wall Street Journal reports that companies are considering enrolling low-wage employees in Medicaid, further expanding Medicaid. It would be ironic if such low-wage employees ended up preferring that their wages remain low so that they could remain eligible for the welfare programs they had become dependent on, thus furthering a poverty cycle?

Robert Pear’s analysis of the Medicaid expansion focuses on the debate over whether states or the federal government will swallow the costs. However, it does not consider the perspective of the taxpayer, who would be paying for all those costs. This is not the first time he’s made that same mistake.

And let’s not forget about those who lost their private and employer health care plans before “gaining” Obamacare coverage. “Thus, while most of the attention this year focused on the new health insurance exchanges, the data indicate that a significant share of exchange enrollments were likely the result of a substitution effect—meaning that most of those who enrolled in new coverage through the exchanges already had coverage through an individual-market or employer-group plan,” reports Heritage’s Daily Signal.

Affordability of coverage is a key marker of Obamacare’s success, but many reporters focus instead on how the subsidies ameliorate high health care costs. The New York Times informs us that 85 percent of those signing up in the last enrollment qualified for subsidies, and, on average, those subsidies “lowered the cost by 76 percent,” according to Obama administration numbers.

Someone is eventually going to have to pay that money back, and that is the American taxpayer—you and me—and future generations. But those considerations were not taken into account when measuring Obamacare’s ultimate “success.”

What will certainly hit Americans now is the job-killing effects of Obamacare, which are, admittedly, hard to measure. However, Mortimer Zuckerman, writing for The Wall Street Journal in July, at least partially attributed the growing prevalence of American part-time work to the perverse effects of this legislation. “Many employers cut workers' hours to avoid the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide health insurance to anyone working 30 hours a week or more,” he reminds us. Therefore, the unintended consequences of Obamacare include “Fewer full-time workers,” he writes. “In many cases two people are working the same number of hours that one had previously worked,” wrote Zuckerman.

Instead, the Times assesses whether the health care industry has been helped by the law, not whether the economy has been helped overall.

The timing of this comprehensive article was also suspicious. Not only was this analysis released just before the election, it was released before some data relevant to the one-year success of Obamacare has become available at all. For example, the Times’ analysis of whether premiums will increase is based on “early regulatory filings by the McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform,” which covered only 21 states. If the paper had waited until November 15—just a couple of weeks away—they’d be basing their analysis on real sales data instead of prospective estimates.  

Similarly, their analysis of whether the online exchanges will work better than last year is an estimate based on federal and state officials’ assurances. But the Times didn’t even bother to mention the possible security problems facing Healthcare.gov when the open enrollment period begins again this year.

“Congressional investigators found that administration officials, eager to begin enrollment on Oct. 1, activated the website even though its security had not been fully tested and did not meet federal standards,” reported  Pear and Nicole Perlroth this September for the Times, which is obviously aware of the website’s endemic security problems. “For months, cybersecurity professionals have been warning that the health care site was a ripe target for hackers eager to gain access to personal data that could be sold on the black market.”

Wasn’t that relevant to an assessment of Obamacare’s “success?”

It is revealing that even while failing to ask the hard questions about this legislation, the Times reporters were still unable to give Obamacare an unequivocal thumbs up after considering its high deductibles, narrow networks, and surprise balance billing. But maybe it is the fact that they considered it necessary to ask the questions at all, before the exchanges reopened and before the election results, that definitively demonstrates their bias.

This article was originally published at Accuracy in Media.

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Bethany Stotts is a freelance writer, and former staff writer for Accuracy in Academia. She blogs at http://bethanystotts.wordpress.com.  This article is an exclusive appearing at Accuracy in Media.