'Key' Obamacare Rule Mentioned in Just One Network Story as It Takes Effect

January 6th, 2015 12:08 PM

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, started creating even more headaches for both employers and employees across the country beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

That was the day Obamacare’s employer mandate went into effect, requiring companies with 100 or more workers to provide health insurance to at least 70 percent of their employees. Mandates for smaller businesses will be introduced in 2016 in addition to increased mandates for larger companies, according to The Washington Post.

But in the week surrounding the implementation, only 1 out of 21 broadcast networks’ evening news programs said anything about it. That meant more than 95 percent of the news shows ignored the employer mandate. All three networks failed to mention possible negative effects of the employer mandate or Obamacare and neither ABC, nor NBC’s shows mentioned the new rule between December 29, 2014, and January 4, 2015.

ABC and NBC did air stories about new laws going into effect at the new year. "20/20" anchor Elizabeth Vargas filled in as "World News Tonight with David Muir" anchor on December 31. That night she narrated a news brief about the "new laws about to take effect" across the U.S. in 2015. She did not mention the employer mandate, but focused on minimum wage increases in 21 states, a California law that allowed undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses, and the state of New York’s ban on tiger selfies.

On Jan. 1, NBC’s "Nightly News" dedicated 2 minutes and 40 seconds of coverage to new laws being implemented in 2015. Again, there was no mention of the employer mandate or Obamacare.

On "Nightly News," justice correspondent Pete Williams and national correspondent Kate Snow, who was filling in as anchor, covered the same laws as ABC. In addition, Williams brought up an Illinois law requiring workplace accommodations for pregnant women, various state laws limiting the use of drones, New Hampshire’s “Hike Safe” cards, and an increase in Social Security benefits.

Of all three networks, just one news brief on CBS "Evening News" mentioned Obamacare’s employer mandate. Jeff Glor, the anchor of the Sunday edition of "Evening News," spoke briefly about the mandate on January 1 saying, "A key provision of President Obama's healthcare law went into effect today. Businesses with at least 100 employees are now required to offer health insurance to 70 percent of their full-time workers or pay a fine."

None of the networks covered the potential costs of the employer mandate.  Yet, The Wall Street Journal reported June 18, "Insurance companies say fees and coverage mandates in the law have forced them to raise their rates."

The largest health insurance companies in all but one state were set to increase their premiums between 8.5 percent and 22.8 percent in 2015, according to the Journal.

While the costs of the employer mandate might be high, the benefits of the requirement could be relatively low.  A study by the liberal Urban Institute in May 2014, concluded that "eliminating the employer mandate will not reduce insurance coverage significantly," contrary to its supporters' expectations.

The broadcast news networks also failed to say how Obamacare might otherwise impact businesses or American households. There were no stories profiling individuals like Catherine Keefe, an essayist and a writing instructor at Chapman University.

According to Keefe, Obamacare really hurt her family. She described how on the Washington Post’s PostEverything December 10, explaing that her husband, a small business owner, lost his health coverage because of Obamacare.  She also said her husband’s new plan was more expensive and that rising premiums meant "we’ll eventually have to settle for less generous policies, with higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums."

Keefe’s negative experience with Obamacare was not unusual. A Gallup poll conducted in October 2014 found that more Americans (27 percent) said they were hurt by Obamacare than said they were helped by the law (16 percent). Nearly half of respondents (46 percent) said Obamacare would harm the U.S. healthcare system in the long run, far more than the 15 percent who said the law would end up improving the situation.

The networks demonstrated a similar bias early in 2014. From January 1, 2014, through March 27, 2014, the broadcast news networks ignored stories about Obamacare causing cancer patients to go broke, forcing brain tumor victims to pay more for their insurance, and leaving HIV/AIDS patients in a lurch. During that time, only one story profiled individuals harmed by Obamacare’s rules.

On December 31, the networks’ morning shows spent a total of 42 minutes and 50 seconds reflecting on the biggest stories of 2014. Among the stories they failed to mention were continued problems for Obamacare and Healthcare.gov, Jonathan Gruber and the Hobby Lobby case.

Methodology: MRC Business analyzed the broadcast network evening news shows from December 29, 2014, through January 4, 2015. This week was selected because the employer mandate went into effect Jan. 1, allowing three days of coverage both before and after the event. Of the 21 broadcasts during the date range, only one story or news brief mentioned the employer mandate.