At the end of June, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known to some as Obamacare, and confirmed that the most controversial component, the individual healthcare mandate, was constitutional via a 5-4 decision, with Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority. The political implications of the ruling are interesting, but it’s important to explore the health implications. Corporate media’s coverage of the ruling was also fascinating and disturbing.
Politically, there’s no question that avoiding a takedown of the ACA is important for President Obama’s re-election campaign insofar as the criticism he will avoid from Republicans about having put so time and money into a bill that in the end was unconstitutional. Damage reduction aside, the ruling is of limited net benefit to Obama moving into the November election because for all positive repercussions it already has and may continue to act as a catalyst for huge Mitt Romney fundraising.
One other political note that also moves us into a discussion of media coverage: When will mainstream media start questioning the bogus claims that the ACA is a “socialist” piece of legislation, and when will anybody in corporate media define socialism when a right-winger makes that claim? Here’s one definition:
Socialism: an economic system characterized by social or government ownership and/or control of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy.
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The ACA puts over 30 million additional Americans into the for-profit healthcare system, where corporations and their lobbies decide what procedures and treatments policy holders will be covered for. Quite simply, there’s nothing even remotely socialist about it, and corporate media should push back against those claims. Many don’t for fear of being perceived as “liberal” or of losing access to newsmakers and politicians, which is a sad reality. Citing the definition of a word or concept being used by a politician during an interview is basic journalism, not liberal bias.
To bluntly summarize corporate media coverage of the decision, it was horrendous. In a typical rush to be first to report, Fox News and CNN, as well as right-wing news site DrudgeReport.com and many others incorrectly reported just minutes after 10am eastern time that the Supreme Court had struck down the individual mandate as unconstitutional. Within minutes, blogs and social media, including SCOTUSBlog, reported that the mandate was upheld as a constitutionally valid tax. This was followed by Fox News, CNN, Drudge, and others who jumped the gun moving their headlines back to “awaiting decision,” or just removing them altogether. By 10:10am eastern time, most outlets were correctly reporting that the ACA had indeed been upheld.
One disturbing but not surprising note on Fox News’ coverage: Even after learning the real ruling, instead of putting up the real headline, which should have read something like “Obamacare Upheld, Constitutional,” they ran a headline that if true would have been a clear distraction from the reality, but was in reality factually false: “Supreme court strikes down Medicare mandate.” More attention to accuracy rather than speed would better serve all news consumers.
Lastly, what’s good and bad about the ruling in terms of health implications? The ACA has resulted in the following:
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- 67,000 people enrolled in pre-existing conditions insurance plans
- 3.1 million young adults were insured because of being allowed to stay on their parents' insurance
- 20.4 million women gained free access to preventative services including mammograms, cancer screenings, and prenatal care
- 105 million Americans no longer have a lifetime limit on benefits
- $3.2 billion was saved on prescription drugs that were previously in the Medicare donut hole
- This is all pre-2014, when the majority of the provisions are actually enacted
What’s concerning about the ruling, and more broadly about ACA? The biggest concern is that for all the good things that the bill does, it is further solidifying the for-profit healthcare system of the United States by putting more than 30 million additional people into it. While Obamacare is a step in the correct direction of covering more people and eliminating some significant flaws in the system, the real solution to healthcare is a single payer system that is administered by the government and removing for profit companies from the equation altogether. It stands to reason that the ACA will make that (realistically difficult) transition even more unlikely.
Lastly, progressives need to be happy about the Supreme Court’s decision, but not forget that in the grand scheme of things, ACA is not a vastly progressive bill. We must not let the immediate happiness about the ruling make us lose sight of the fact that there is a long way to go and an uphill battle to establish a healthcare system that truly makes sense.
David Pakman, host of the internationally syndicated political talk radio and television program, "The David Pakman Show," writes a monthly column. He can be reached at www.davidpakman.com.