The New York Times, in its obsession with reporting that the truth is somewhere in the middle no matter what the facts say (FAIR.org, 5/3/17), is now downplaying the risk to sick children posed by elimination of the Affordable Care Act.
In a “Fact Check” on the Affordable Care Act, the Times‘ Linda Qiu (5/3/17) was careful to call into question two Republican and two Democratic statements. One of the Democratic statements was from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:
“Up to 17 million children who have pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurers.”
First Qiu rephrased Pelosi’s statement, removing her qualification (“up to”):
Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said the Affordable Care Act insured 17 million children with pre-existing conditions.
Then she debunked not Pelosi’s actual statement, but her own paraphrase of Pelosi’s statement:
This is misleading. Ms. Pelosi’s office cited a 2011 Department of Health and Human Services report, but the 17 million figure is the upper limit of the department’s estimates. The report’s lower figure, four million, is a fraction of that, and most of those children already had coverage before the Affordable Care Act.
Obviously, it is not misleading to cite an upper limit with the phrase “up to”—that’s what “up to” means.
But when you read the HHS report that Pelosi was referencing, the Times‘ “factcheck” is even more deceptive. The 4 million and 17 million figures are not the low and high estimates of the government about the same phenomenon; they’re counting two separate things, and the first figure intentionally leaves out massive numbers of kids with pre-existing conditions.
The HHS report states:
Because pre-existing conditions are determined by insurer practices which vary, two estimates of the number of non-elderly individuals likely to be denied coverage in the individual market were constructed. The first includes only conditions that were identified using eligibility guidelines from state-run high-risk pools that predated the Affordable Care Act. These programs generally insure individuals who are rejected by private insurers. As such, the “lower bound” estimates are people with a health problem likely to lead to a denial or significant mark-up or carve-out of benefits. The second includes additional common health and mental health conditions (e.g., arthritis, asthma, high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity) that would result in an automatic denial of coverage, exclusion of the condition or higher premiums according to major health insurers’ underwriting guidelines identified using internet searches. Individuals with these conditions would at least get charged a higher premium but could also have benefits carved out or be denied coverage altogether.
So the first, lower estimate used “eligibility guidelines from state-run high-risk pools”; the second, higher estimate—the one Pelosi cited—is based on “major health insurers’ underwriting guidelines.” The pre-existing conditions identified by insurance companies themselves as resulting in denial of coverage, reduced benefits or higher premiums are clearly a better gauge of what conditions require the ACA’s protection than state high-risk pool guidelines.
Pelosi’s statement is not misleading. What is misleading, and dangerously so, is the New York Times‘ effort to minimize the dangers ACA repeal poses to sick children in order to maintain its self-image as even-handedly critical of both major parties.
ACTION: Please write to the New York Times public editor and ask her to call for a correction of the New York Times‘ inaccurate “fact check” of Nancy Pelosi’s statement that the ACA protects “up to 17 million children who have pre-existing conditions.”
Public Editor Liz Spayd
Learn why Single-Payer/Medicare-For-All is our future. MSNBC’s Ali Velshi explained that the free market simply does not work for health insurance, period. Chuck Todd recently pointed out that the AHCA decimates coverage for all but mostly to the Trump voter.
Call your Senators and Congressional Representatives every day and let them know you do not want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Also tell them they must support H.R. 676, Medicare-for-all. If you do not know how to get in touch with them, click here.