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If media coverage of the recent healthcare reform bill left you confused about whether the bill debated for months is actually the bill that passed, you aren’t alone. A quick look at the reporting and commentary on the bill before and after it was signed into law gives the impression the passed bill is completely different from the one that involved “death panels,” Cornhusker Kickbacks,” and “Gator-Aid.”
Public opinion is still weak on the passing of the bill as a whole and on the government’s handling of healthcare. And much misunderstanding about the cost of the bill exists – a recent Fox News poll showed 65 percent of respondents believe the bill will push the U.S. farther into debt, although the bill will reduce the deficit.
I was not impressed with the bill that passed and believe President Obama misplayed the healthcare reform battle from the start, backing himself into a corner with no way out other than taking whatever he could get.
Still, the actual provisions are popular and media coverage of the bill has shifted on many news outlets since passing.
A number of possibilities exist about the change in tone, coverage and interpretation of the new law.
One option – the one that doesn’t blame media outlets – is the “Bandwagon Theory,” which Boston Red Sox fans will relate to: People like to be on the winning side.
Putting aside my lukewarm opinion of the actual bill, and making clear that I use the term “winner” loosely here, the influx of Red Sox fans after the Curse of the Bambino was broken with a World Series win in 2004 was the motivation behind new supporters coming to the side of the healthcare bill once Democrats “won.”
Whether the winner is one’s home team or not – the Red Sox or Yankees, the Democrats or Republicans – success breeds positive opinion, even if the final bill contained only a fraction of the provisions and components that would have gone further to improve the national healthcare scenario.
While the “Bandwagon Theory” may be a factor, another component is aptly named “Now That It Passed, We Might Get Honest Media Coverage Theory.”
Many who have called in or emailed my radio/TV program seem to have forgotten how discussions of “death panels,” “Marxism,” “the deficit explosion” and “unconstitutionality” dominated media outlets in the lead-up to the healthcare vote.
It’s not hard to imagine why a casual news consumer, maybe 10 minutes of cable news at night, or a half hour of talk radio on the way to work, might not like the healthcare bill based on the reporting.
If you believe, as was suggested by many, that the government is planning to decide whether or not to kill grandma, you understandably would balk at supporting such a bill.
Even more ludicrous were those who said, in a variety of ways, that government should “keep its hands out of my Medicare.” I think those people won’t favor the bill no matter what, even if the government did get its hands out of the government-created and government-run healthcare program called Medicare – opposed on principle by many reaping its benefits.
With money no longer pouring into anti-reform ads by lobbyists, PACs, and other special interest groups, and less incentive for the usual suspects on cable news and talk radio to parrot the clever but false talking points – like death panels – it’s possible that people are now learning more about what’s in the bill.
While the law leaves much to be desired, many of its provisions are not controversial, especially when presented honestly and in plain English.
Among its provisions, the new law:
* Expands healthcare to cover 32 million people now uninsured.
* If you’re uninsured or self-employed, you can buy subsidized health insurance while earning up to 400 percent of poverty-level income.
* Separate exchanges for small businesses to purchase insurance will be created in 2014.
* It expands Medicaid maximum income to $29,327 for a family of four.
* Within six months of enactment, insurers can not deny insurance to children with pre-existing conditions, and can’t deny insurance to anyone for pre-existing conditions starting in 2014.
* By 2014, everyone must have health insurance or pay a $695 fine, except for low-income exceptions.
* Illegal immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid.
There are many other provisions, but take this away:
All of the features listed above score extremely well with a majority of individuals.
There are concerns about cost, but the idea that the healthcare bill itself “does things people don’t want or need” is a myth. The bill’s passing still leaves some undeterred. One hockey-mom-turned-former-Alaska-governor has chosen to crowbar “death panel” mentions wherever she can, as do cable news anchors and conservative talk radio hosts.
I don’t think anyone finds that the least bit surprising.
David Pakman, host of “Midweek Politics with David Pakman,” writes a monthly column. If your newspaper or website is interested in running the column, contact us.