A brave exercise in truth-telling: The Heritage Foundation’s Obamacare recap promotes bad news about a bad law

March 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 27, 2015

With the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, taking place on Monday, the media have been packed with assessments of the law. But not all assessments are created equal.

Take the article (excuse me — I meant to say, the “brave exercise in truth-telling”) written by Melissa Quinn of the Daily Signal, an outlet of the conservative Heritage Foundation. She got things off to a terrible start:

Five years ago on March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the health care law’s provision took effect in 2013, and Americans have since been experiencing the effects of the law—both good and bad. Millions learned they were not able to keep their original insurance plans and more than 7.7 million received subsidies from the federal exchange.

The Daily Signal examined some of the biggest claims made about Obamacare to see where things stand five years later.

Where’s the reminder that Obamacare is an unmitigated train wreck? How dare Quinn suggest that some Americans might actually be benefitting from the law?! (Never ever ever mention that private citizens — let alone 7.7 million of them — are receiving subsidies without reminding the reader how nasty and terrible big government is!) This is simply terrible stuff.

The rest of the article is… well, it’s more of an infographic than an article. (Literally: The rest of the information is conveyed by an embedded PNG graphics file, not by plain boring old lamestream media text.) Because it’s so short, I’ll just retype the text — emphasis in the original:

Fact Check: Obamacare Five Years Later

If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. 

Fact: Millions of Americans lost their health insurance plans due to the Affordable Care Act.

If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.

Fact: Plans offered under the Affordable Care Act have limited provider networks, making it difficult for some consumers to keep their original doctors without paying more.

Subsidies are available for Americans on both state and federal exchanges who qualify for them.

Fact: HHS estimates 7.7 million Americans received subsidies through the federal exchange. Whether they are able to continue to do so is up to the U.S. Supreme Court, who will rule on the case King v. Burwell.

The Affordable Care Act will cover every American. 

Fact: According to the latest report from the Congressional Budget Office, about 25 million people will remain uninsured in 2025 and up to 7 million fewer people will have employer-based coverage.

This is terrific stuff. Millions of Americans lost their health insurance plans due to the Affordable Care Act? No source for this assertion is given. (Nor for anything else in the story, until the final item, which mentions that “the latest report from the Congressional Budget Office” contains the stated figures.) The Urban Institute did in fact estimate that 2.6 million people had policies canceled in 2013 because their insurance didn’t comply with new Obamacare standards. What (thankfully!) Quinn doesn’t tell us is that roughly 400,000 people had policies canceled going into 2015 and that, per the study, “we expect that though cancellations of noncompliant plans may continue through 2017, disruption should be limited.”

This month, a Gallup survey found that the percentage of uninsured American adults was 12.9 percent in late 2014; it was about 15.4 percent shortly before Obama took office and peaked at 18 percent in 2013. To her credit, Quinn simply skips right past the fact that the Affordable Care Act has helped insure millions of Americans — I mean, we can’t have anyone think that Obamacare is anything other than a train wreck, am I right?

Quinn thoughtfully notes that millions of Americans are expected to be without health insurance in 10 years, despite promises made by the Affordable Care Act’s supporters that the law would end up covering everyone. Last fall, a Kaiser Family Foundation study indicated that nearly 4 million people are unable to obtain coverage specifically because many Republican-controlled states refuse to expand Medicaid; that’s about 16 percent of the total that Quinn cites. Wisely, this goes unmentioned. (To be clear, Kaiser was assessing the current state of things, while the number Quinn used was a projection for 2025.)

In order to get some context for Quinn’s achievements in journalism, I read Tara Culp-Ressler’s Obamacare recap for ThinkProgress, a progressive organ funded by the left-wing Center for American Progress. (Unlike the Daily Signal, ThinkProgress claims that its editorial decisions are entirely independent of the website’s funders and that the site is “not partisan. We produce critical reporting on Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.”)

I found this take to be rather more…biased biased biased. Culp-Ressler’s piece runs 861 words, more than three times the length of Quinn’s (a pithy 248 words). The Daily Signal mission statement posits that its readers are busy, which explains the brevity; obviously, everyone who reads ThinkProgress must be an unemployed layabout and welfare cheat with oodles of time to kill.

Culp-Ressler’s story also takes the questionable step of citing its sources. I counted 37 hyperlinks in her text — roughly one per 23 words. (In at least one case, two separate links went to the same page, an obvious case of liberal link inflation.) These lead to a variety of items, including other ThinkProgress stories as well as articles in other generally progressive outlets such as Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Vox and Talking Points Memo.

A number of lamestream publications are cited, too: The New York Times, The Washington PostThe AtlanticU.S. News and World Report and Forbes, for instance. Supposedly “nonpartisan” sources are also represented (Rand, Gallup, the Kaiser Family Foundation and PolitiFact) along with obviously fake government documents produced by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Why so many sources? Methinks the liberal doth document too much; obviously, no one invests that much effort creating the appearance of credibility unless there is no hope of having any credibility whatsoever. We’re on to your little game, Culp-Ressler.

Be honest with yourself: In this case, did the right-leaning or the left-leaning media outlet offer a fairer and more comprehensive evaluation of the effects of the Affordable Care Act? To me, the answer is clear.

Well done, Melissa Quinn, the Daily Signal and the Heritage Foundation. You’re truly keeping the (conservative) world well-informed!

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