Media Reports On A GOP Obamacare ‘Repeal’ Bill That Doesn’t Exist

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Will Ricciardella Social Media Strategist and Politics Writer
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Media outlets on both the left and the right are inaccurately characterizing the GOP health care bill as a “repeal” of Obamacare, echoing a frame that fits nicely with Republican talking points but does not reflect the facts.

Republicans have won consistent victories in the last four election cycles built largely on the foundation of a singular promise: to repeal Obamacare. Eventually, that promise helped the GOP seize control of the White House, Congress, and with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, even the Supreme Court. Donald Trump has hedged on the issue in the past, but was vociferous for his support of “repeal and replace” on the 2016 campaign trail.

The Democrats have resisted the GOP’s promise of repeal and replacement every step of the way, claiming repeal will make “Make America Sick Again,” a play on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. Some politicians and media outlets on the left have claimed that repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, will actually “kill” people.

The Senate GOP’s newly revealed legislation, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, is being framed as a “repeal” and replacement of Obamacare by media outlets with a stake in how the word is perceived among their viewer base. In reality, the bill does little to repeal the regulatory aspects of what makes Obamacare “Obamacare.”

What the bill does do is replace the funding mechanisms of the already actuarily insolvent requirements in Obamacare — like the individual and employer mandates — and keep in tact all of the original subsides until 2020. After 2020, the bill shifts to age-rated subsidies, while maintaining many of the income-based subsidies.

The reduction in Medicaid spending, or what The New York Times describes as “deep cuts” to Medicaid, occur over a period of eight years. Medicaid exists as-is until 2020, then reduces the rate of federal funding until 2024, and is supported with block grant funding in 2025. The effect of these provisions will be to incentivize states to push people on Medicaid rolls before 2020. The increased amount of people that rely on Medicaid will correspondingly decrease the chances spending reductions are ever realized.

It’s clear the law is not as much repeal or replacement as it is “reform,” yet many right and left leaning media outlets continue to refer to the bill as “repeal,” echoing the campaign rhetoric of politicos. It is the duty of the 4th estate to check politicians, not parrot their campaign talking points. A lack of careful examination by the media makes it much harder for the people to hold their government to account.

Fox News — in perhaps a subtle nod to its republican readers that voted for repeal — ran a headline calling the outlook for “repealing” Obamacare “unhealthy” because the more conservative members of the Senate oppose the law. The article later quotes Rand Paul’s reason for not supporting the law — “I guess we’re keeping Obamacare” — and then explains the blowback the GOP could experience by not passing the “replace[ment] of Obamacare. The article delineates how Obamacare will be tweaked, but skips over the pertinent fact that the bill isn’t as much repeal or replacement as it is reform.

The Wall Street Journal similarly refers to the bill in a caption as the GOP’s “version … to replace Obamacare.” The Journal story used the term “repeal” to explain the bills reforms five times, never mentioning that the key regulatory elements of Obamacare remain, but clearly outlining the proposed changes in funding. Like Fox News, WSJ readers might assume the bill is in keeping with the repeal the GOP promised during the campaign, when in fact it’s more of a reform of the current system.

Left leaning news outlet Vox referred to “the Senate bill to repeal and replace Obamacare” in the title of an article outlining the specifics of a law that does neither. The Los Angeles Times called it the “Senate bill to repeal Obamacare” in their headline, and reported the “intense pressure” the GOP is under to pass the bill, after “seven years” of promising repeal and “winning elections” on said promise. Framing the law as repeal as opposed to reform sounds more dire, as though people’s health care is going to be plucked from their fingers by the GOP.

The news on the release of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 made headlines everywhere, with many media outlets wrongly referring to the bill as the “replacement” or “repeal” of Obamacare. But the reports left out the key point that Republicans are walking back on their promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, as the bill fails on a fundamental level to do either.

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Will Ricciardella