Jonathan Chait and Kevin Drum both have posts today that lament that media has focused on cases of “rate shock” amongst the middle class instead of necessarily focusing on the millions of people receiving subsidies and those with pre-existing conditions finally being able to purchase insurance. Here’s Chait:
Why has their plight attained such singular prominence? Several factors have come together. The news media has a natural attraction to bad news over good. “Millions Set to Gain Low-Cost Insurance” is a less attractive story than “Florida Woman Facing Higher Costs.” Obama overstated the case when he repeatedly assured Americans that nobody would lose their current health-care plan. There’s also an economic bias at work. Victims of rate shock are middle-class, and their travails, in general, tend to attract far more lavish coverage than the problems of the poor. (Did you know that on November 1, millions of Americans suffered painful cuts to nutritional assistance? Not a single Sunday-morning talk-show mentioned it.)
In addition, I can only assume that writing about the people who are benefiting from Obamacare would strike DC reporters as a little too much like shilling for the Obama administration.
The real reason that the media has focused on the middle class has three reason. First, Obama lied to them about keeping their plans (Chait mentions this). Liberals continue to underestimate how infuriating this is to the average American. Obama sold the law on the premise that anyone who liked their plans would get to keep them. They would get to keep their network and doctors as well. This was a crystal clear message from the president so that people wouldn’t be spooked about change. This has nothing to do with whether this change is necessary (it is). The fact is Obama lied to get his law passed. The Americans he lied to are predominantly middle class ones who are purchasing insurance through the exchange and are not eligible for Medicare. Is it surprising that the media’s attention has been focused on the people Obama lied to in order to pass the Affordable Care Act?
Second, liberals bought into the framework that Obamacare would be judged based on “rate shock.” This isn’t necessarily a fair way to judge law. Some people will pay more for more comprehensive coverage, others will pay less for better coverage, some will pay more for worse coverage and others will have the chance to purchase insurance for the first time. The effects of Obamacare are more than just the sticker price of insurance, even after subsidies are factored in. The law requires insurers to cover 10 essential health benefits, places limits on the deductible, and eliminates the cap on lifetime costs. These are all important aspects of Obamacare that drive up rates.
The problem is that for months now, health wonks have spent most of their time arguing about rates under Obamacare. That’s been the focal point of discussion. Not surprisingly, the law is being judged based on “rate shock” now. However, to be fair to the law’s supporters, this was always going to put them at a disadvantage as the easiest way to evaluate Obamacare is by what happens with insurance rates.
Finally, the failures of HealthCare.gov have ensured that the focus will be on all those receiving cancellation letters. If the website functioned properly, many Americans who found out their plans were cancelled would log on to the federal exchange, see they are eligible for subsidies and cheaper plans, and become happy supporters of the law. Others would find out their plan is still more expensive and continue to be furious at the administration. But under that scenario, some of the stories of middle class Americans receiving notices that their plans were discontinued would be alleviated. That would help relieve much of the pressure that the White House is under. Unfortunately, they royally screwed up the website.
Thus, the media’s focus on middle class cancellation notices and “rate shock” is the result of Obama’s lie, a misleading framework for evaluating the law and HealthCare.gov’s catastrophic launch. Without the president’s deceit and the marketplace’s struggles, the media would have had many more opportunities to cover the law in a positive light. Unfortunately, the administration never gave them that opportunity.