Good News About Obamacare Doesn’t Get Out

We Heart ObamacareEzra Klein wrote an article this morning with some extremely positive news, The Obamacare Train Keeps Not Wrecking. It is primarily about some new information from the Kaiser Family Foundation that shows that where we have data, insurance premiums on average are going to go down next year. That in itself is a big deal because healthcare premiums pretty much never go down. But this is especially notable because the most recent claims from conservatives have been that there will be “rate shock” next year and that premiums will go up by double digits.

The worst case that Kaiser found was in Nashville where the premiums look to go up 8.7%. But this is more than offset by declines in places like Seattle (-9.8%), Providence (-11.4%), and Colorado (-15.6%). Of course, you aren’t likely to hear much about this in the news. Ten months ago, Intelligence² held a debate with the title, Is The Affordable Care Act Beyond Repair? In that debate, 16% started in favor of the motion; 32% ended in favor. That’s the nature of public coverage. Since then, there has been nothing but good news about Obamacare, yet that news has gotten shockingly little coverage.

Part of that is simply that “good news” is no news. The problems with the website were clear and potentially disastrous. But all the news since then has been of the nature, “Obamacare working as intended — but better.” Even if suddenly everyone in the United States had health insurance because of Obamacare, it would get at most a passing reference on the nightly news.

But there are some places that are determined not to report even the best of news:

Or imagine it played out the other way. Imagine that Obamacare’s 2014 premiums had come in higher than expected, and its 2015 premiums were growing even faster than projected. Imagine it had signed up 6 million people rather than 7 million people. Imagine Medicare costs were exploding. What would Fox News be saying about Obamacare right now? What would the Wall Street Journal editorial board be writing?

It would be getting blanket coverage, of course. But what coverage is the good news getting? Not a drop.

This gets to an important point about Fox News and other outlets that I try to explain to people who consume “news” in this form: the greatest propaganda aspect of this kind of reporting is not in the reporting itself; it is in what is and is not reported. Look at Solyndra — the solar panel company that went out of business. It was a small story. But the right wing media beat on it for years. The story was that it had gotten a large government loan. This was seen as some kind of scandal, even though the vast majority of money in that loan program was paid back. But the full context was never reported by them. After other mainstream outlets pushed the full context of the loan program, the right wing simply dropped it. And this is why you will still find conservatives ranting about it: after blanket coverage, the right wing media just dropped it and their consumers were never the wiser.

The problem with this is not just that conservative voters get their news from biased sources that simply ignore any ideologically inconvenient information; the conservative elites do the same thing. And this is how the entire Republican Party has managed to go on tilt. Notice that despite the internet allowing people to get far better and more thorough news about the world, conservatives have allowed themselves to be cocooned in a hermetically seal media system that is even more limited than the news people got from the television in the 1950s.

What is most problematic about this is that the right wing echo chamber is only sealed regarding information getting in. The people who watch Fox News all day and every day think they are well informed. Most people don’t pay much attention to politics, so they are not able to go to family gatherings and rant about global warming being a conspiracy and Benghazi being a conspiracy and Fast and Furious being a conspiracy and so on. But the dedicated Fox News viewer can — and will. So all the looniness of the right wing gets spewed out. And it has an impact. One of those is the continued ignorance about Obamacare that is turning out to be a far greater success than I ever dreamed possible.

Update (6 September 2014 5:03 pm)

Paul Krugman posted something about the mechanism I discussed here, A Note on the Dynamics of Misinformation:

It goes like this: a lot of the untrue beliefs people have about Obamacare come not so much from outright false reporting as from selective reporting. Every suggestion of bad news gets highlighted — especially, of course, but not only by Fox, the WSJ, etc… But when it turns out that the news wasn’t really that bad, these sources just move on. There are claims that millions of people are losing coverage — headlines! When it turns out not to be true — crickets! Some experts claim that premiums will rise by double digits — big news! Actual premium numbers come in and they’re surprisingly low — not mentioned.

The result is that most news consumers — who form impressions rather than trying to work out details — have the sense that it’s been all bad news. This is true even for people who don’t rely on Fox — I get asked about the scary premium hikes by people on the Upper West Side! And of course for those who do get their news from Fox, well, they know, just know, that Obamacare has reduced the number of Americans with insurance and caused premiums to double or something, even though even their favorite news source isn’t saying such things.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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