No Skepticism as ABC and CBS Cheer ‘Major Milestone’ for ObamaCare

Both ABC and CBS carved out a few seconds on their Thursday evening and Friday morning newscasts to boost President Obama’s claims of success for his ObamaCare program. Filling in for Diane Sawyer, ABC World News anchor David Muir cheered the “major milestone” of an alleged eight million enrollees, while CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley said the enrollment figures were a “recent success” for the health care law.
Gone was the skepticism that some reporters, like ABC’s Jon Karl, showed at the end of March when ObamaCare was nearing seven million sign-ups, as he threw cold water on the official White House stat: “How many of those have signed up were previously uninsured....We don’t know how many people signed up here were simply – had their previous plans cancelled. Also, we don’t know how many have actually paid their premiums.”

Those questions remain crucial to evaluating the new claim of eight million sign-ups, but neither ABC nor CBS reminded viewers of the potential problems with taking Obama’s figures at face value. (NBC, which joined the other broadcast networks in providing live coverage of the President’s Thursday afternoon press conference, actually skipped ObamaCare on both that night’s Nightly News and Friday morning’s Today.)

And both networks relayed Obama’s claim — accurate, but misleading — that, as ABC’s Amy Robach put it on Friday’s Good Morning America, “35 percent of the new enrollees are under age 35.”

That’s true, but one-fifth of those are young children included in family plans, leaving just 28 percent of those signing up are in the targeted group between ages 18 and 34. As a front-page story in this morning’s New York Times admitted, “some analysts said the optimum level would be 40 percent. ‘In an ideal world, you’d want to get as close to that number as possible,’ said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

On CBS This Morning, substitute co-host Sharon Alfonsi narrated the only report to cite an Obama critic (just one sentence): “In a statement, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says he remains committed to repealing and replacing ObamaCare.” But CBS also illustrated their 40-second report with a montage of favorable news headlines: “Enrollments Exceed Obama’s Target for Health Care Act” (New York Times); “Obamacare Is On a Winning Streak” (National Journal); “Obama spikes the football” (Politico); “Obama on health care law: ‘This thing is working’” (USA Today).

The networks have cheered the White House push for young adults to sign up for ObamaCare (most notably, when the President popped up on a Web comedy show, “Between Two Ferns,” back in March). But they have yet to explore whether the high premiums, high deductibles and limited networks on the ObamaCare plans are really a good deal for workers just starting out.

Back on March 28 on his Forbes blog, the American Enterprise Institute’s Dr. Scott Gottlieb supplied hard data showing that ObamaCare is “too pricey to make economic sense for many young adults.” Gottlieb and his AEI colleague Kelly Funderburk computed how much the ObamaCare plans would really cost young adults with varying incomes (see his article for a full explanation of his methodology):

Someone, for example, earning $25K annually in Arizona will pay $2,424 in total monthly premiums for Obamacare (10% of their annual income) and still be stuck with a $4,000 deductible and a $5,200 cap on their out of pocket costs. The same person in Illinois will pay $3,576 in annual premiums, and in low cost Texas $2,460.

What about the same 30 year old who now earns $30,000 annually – the average salary for a pre-school teacher according to census data? In Arizona, their annual cost for carrying the Obamacare plan runs $2,772 and their deductible is $5,000. In Illinois, the same person will spend $4,092 for the same health plan, and also have a $5,000 deductible before their full health coverage kicks in.

Even someone earning $20K a year (the average salary for a full-time cashier) and eligible for Obamacare’s rich “cost sharing subsidies” is still going to find coverage pricey. In Pennsylvania, which was the lowest cost of the four states, the annual premium will run $1,620 for a plan that still leaves them with a $600 deductible. In Illinois, that same plan will cost $2,868 annually with the same $600 deductible. Premiums alone will eat up a whopping 14% of their annual income.

A watchdog media would at least confront the White House with these statistics and ask how it squares with presidential rhetoric suggesting ObamaCare is a great deal for young people. Instead, the coverage last night and this morning amounted to awarding the President a victory lap. (Thanks to Scott Whitlock for Friday’s morning show transcripts):

# ABC’s World News, April 17:

DAVID MUIR: The White House revealing that pact with Russia late today, of course; also revealing though something else — the President saying his health care plan has now passed another major milestone. 8 million Americans have now signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. And, for the first time we’re learning 35% are under the age of 35, of course, a group heavily targeted by the White House during those final weeks of open enrollment.

# CBS Evening News, April 17:

SCOTT PELLEY: Today, President Obama talked up the recent success in getting Americans to enroll in insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. Eight million have now signed up, and 35% are under the age of 35. The President said, quote, “This thing is working.”

# ABC’s Good Morning America, April 18:

AMY ROBACH: A milestone for President Obama’s signature health care plan. Eight million people have now signed up for Obamacare. That’s one million more than projected. And 35 percent of the new enrollees are under age 35. And that’s just shy of the administration’s goal of 40 percent.

# CBS This Morning, April 18:

SHARYN ALFONSI: The White House is celebrating news about the Affordable Care Act this morning. Eight million Americans have now signed up for coverage, beating initial projections by one million customers. More than a third are under the age of 35. On Thursday, President Obama used the numbers to challenge Republican critics.

Clip of BARACK OBAMA: The point is, the repealed debate is and should be over. The Affordable Care Act is working and I know the American people don’t want us spending the next two and a half years re-fighting the settled political battles of the last five years.

ALFONSI: In a statement, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says he remains committed to repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

— Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Rich Noyes on Twitter.