Spot the Fake News: Obamacare Subsidies

16 Oct 2017 /

I read four news stories on the same topic — the end of Obamacare subsidies to insurance companies.

The Wall Street Journal plays it straight down the middle:

President Donald Trump’s executive order on health care issued Thursday marks the first major salvo in what the White House promises will be an extensive, targeted campaign to unravel the Affordable Care Act administratively.

As does Bloomberg:

President Donald Trump said he is moving “step by step” on his own to remake the U.S. health care system because Congress won’t act on his demand to repeal Obamacare.

The Trump administration took its most drastic measure yet to roll back the Affordable Care Act Thursday evening, announcing it would cut off a subsidy to insurers hours after issuing an executive order designed to draw people away from the health law’s markets.

See if you can spot the fake news in the Politico version:

President Donald Trump plans to cut off subsidy payments to insurers selling Obamacare coverage in his most aggressive move yet to undermine his predecessor’s health care law.

Politico imputes an ulterior motive, i.e., Trump is not trying to make life better for anyone, he just wants to undermine Obama. That is fake. You can’t know why someone did something. I don’t even know why I do half the things I do.

Surprisingly to me, CNBC, which I expected would have an impartial, businesslike report, went completely off the rails:

Obamacare bombshell: Trump kills key payments to health insurers

The Trump administration will immediately stop making critically important payments to insurers who sell Obamacare health plans, a bombshell move that is expected to spike premium prices and potentially lead many insurers to exit the marketplace.

Where to start on this . . .?

1. The word “bombshell” doesn’t belong in a news story. Even to call something a “surprise” or an “unforeseen event” raises the question of who exactly was surprised by it.

In this case, nobody was surprised. Everyone knew that there was no appropriation for the subsidies, meaning that they are not accounted for in the federal budget.

When Obama was president, he didn’t care that the payments were off budget, but when Trump was elected, everyone had an inkling that the payments would stop.

2. What’s the difference between a payment, an important payment and a critically important payment? “Critically important payment” is not a fact, it’s an opinion. It’s fake news.

If you want to make a case for critical importance, lay out the facts and let the reader decide.

3. “Increase” is a better word than “spike” in a news story. Using words like “spike,” “bombshell” and “kills,” especially in a story about healthcare, creates a manufactured sense of danger, fear and imminent fatality.

Also: premium prices have already gone up. Insurance companies raised the premiums in anticipation of the subsidies being stopped, despite CNBC’s characterization of the stoppage as a “bombshell” (see #1 above).

4. There’s no information in saying that something will “potentially” transpire. How many insurers did you talk to? None? One? More than one? How many said they would exit the marketplace?

Every major insurer has already partially or completely left the Obamacare marketplace.

 

There’s a taxonomy of fake news. It’s not (necessarily) fabricated. It’s more often misleading content or false context, as seen above.


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