NIHCM Health Care Digital Media Award: the Finalists.

Thanks to NIHCM for including “Obamacare’s Victims” parts 1 and 2 on the list (see below for a brief description of this two-part post) , and congratulations to all of the finalists.

The award recognizes excellence in digital media that improves understanding of health care topics.A $10,000 prize will be presented to the winner at a dinner in Washington, DC on June 1, 2015.

I urge everyone to read the nominated posts. If you are interested in healthcare and healthcare reform, this is a good short list of “must-read’s.”  You may not agree with all of them, but they provide valuable information, and highlight key controversies. 

Lisa Aliferis, Lisa Pickoff-White, Olivia Allen-Price, State of Health, KQED, 11/17/14, 9/11/14, 3/23/14, 2/3/14

Julia Belluz, “The Science of Obesity and Weight Loss,” Vox, 11/27/14, 12/19/14, 12/23/14, 8/25/14

Aaron Carroll, Mark Olsen, Stan Muller, “Healthcare Triage—Using Evidence to Inform Policy,” Healthcare Triage, 1/19/14, 6/9/14, 10/6/14, 5/26/14

Carlos Fioravanti, “The Stepping Stones to Rare Diseases,” Pesquisa, August 2014

Westby Fisher, “The ABIM Foundation, Choosing Wisely, and the $2.3 Million Condominium” & “Reviewing the Regulators,” Dr. Wes Blog, 12/16/14, 10/21/14

David Gorski, “The Problems with Right-to-Try,” Science-Based Medicine, 3/8/14, 4/27/14, 7/21/14, 11/2/14

Matthew Herper, The Medicine Show, Forbes, 1/8/14, 6/12/14, 8/8/14, 12/7/14

Alexander Howard, TechRepublic, CBS Interactive, 6/10/14, 3/11/14

Allan Joseph, “Treating Hepatitis C,” The Incidental Economist, 6/13/14, 6/16/14, 6/17/14, 6/18/14

Sarah Kliff, “How America Pays for Health Care,” Vox, 9/2/14, 12/22/14, 4/17/14, 12/2/14

Maggie Mahar, “Obamacare’s Victims, Part 1 and Part 2,”, 1/2/14, 1/3/14

Marc-David Munk, “The Future,” Considering American Healthcare, 9/13/14, 8/18/14, 8/8/14, 7/10/14

Elaine Schattner, “Cancer Patients Need More Guidance in Treatment Decisions,” Forbes, 8/28/14, 8/13/14, 9/24/14, 11/2/14

Gary Schwitzer, “ Posts 34 Pieces in 2014 on Imbalanced Media Messages on Screening Tests,” Health News Watchdog,, 10/1/14, 7/9/14, 6/25/14, 9/16/14

“Obamacare’s Victims”– part 1 and part 2 (Summary) 

(Note to HealthBeat readers: these posts originally appeared on )

For more than two years, health reform’s opponents have been feasting on tales of Obamacare’s innocent victims—Americans who lost their insurance because it didn’t comply with the ACA’s regulations. Critics claim that now they have to shell out more than they can afford—or go without coverage.

Trouble is, many of those stories just aren’t true.

In Part 1 of the post, I write about a Fort Worth Star Telegram article that leads with the tale of Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old new mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Her insurer just cancelled her policy, and according to Johnson, new insurance would cost her over $1,000 a month.

That claim stopped me in my tracks. Under the ACA, no 26-year-old could be charged $1,000 monthly – even if she has MS.

Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

At that point, I knew that something was wrong.

When I checked the exchange – plugging in Johnson’s county and her age – I soon found a Blue Choice Gold PPO plan priced at $332 monthly (just $7 more than she had been paying for the plan that was cancelled). Co-pays to see a primary care doctor would run just $10 ($50 to visit a specialist) and she would not have to pay down the $1,500 deductible before the insurance kicked in.

You’ll find part 1 here and part 2 here. If you would like to comment, please come back to this post.








Obamacare “Horror Stories”–Who Are These People? How Many of These Stories Are True? Part 1

No doubt you have seen or read stories about innocent Americans who have become casualties of Obamacare. The law that was supposed to help middle-class families is now asking them to pay unreasonable premiums and sky-high deductibles. In many cases, they had perfectly good coverage that has been cancelled because it didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “standards.”

Trouble is, some of these anecdotes  just aren’t true. When an unbiased  reporter begins to make some phone calls, they start to fall apart.

Nevertheless,  these tales of Americans harmed by Obamacare  are being promoted by various conservative groups–including the Republican National Committee.  An internal RNC memo provides advice on how to collect stories of “victims” and feed them to the press.

Knowing this, when I read the horror stories,  I can’t  help but wonder: have the folks who are quoted checked prices on their Exchange?  Do they know  whether they are eligible for government subsidies?   How many didn’t  even try to find out because they just don’t like the ACA?  Who are these people who step forward to  identify themselves victims of the trainwreck called Obmacare? Where did they come from? How did the reporters who wrote the stories find them?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are journalists  fact checking their tales? How many are just writing down whatever their sources tell them?

          A Young Mother Suffering From MS Searches For Insurance

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a story that ran in the Fort Worth Star Telegram on November 26. The lead is compelling:

“Whitney Johnson, an Arlington 26-year-old with multiple sclerosis, can’t afford to go without health insurance. Her life depends on it.

She gave birth to her first child Sept. 2 after undergoing a series of rigorous steroid treatments, surgeries and a plasma exchange that saved her life. She pays $325 a month for an individual insurance plan – a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of her plasma protein replacement therapy, which runs $40,000 a pop. She undergoes treatment every five weeks.

But now, with the Affordable Care Act in full swing, Johnson’s insurance is under threat.. . .

Recently, the story  explains, Johnson’s insurer sent her a letter saying that because her policy “does not comply with Obamacare” it will be cancelled Jan. 1, 2014. Initially she hoped that she might shift to her husband’s employer-based health plan  For $325 a month, it covers him and their son. But it  turns out that if Whitney were added the policy, their premium would triple.

Meanwhile, she “has been unable to access the federal health exchange website” the newspaper reports, “which has been hampered by technical problems.”

In a video talking about her experience,  Johnson claims  that when she began “trying to shop around ‘ outside the Exchange, “the rates went from $1,000 to $1,800 a month for not even close to the coverage that my previous  insurance had offered me.”

This is when I knew that there was something very wrong with Johnson’s story.

                        $1000 a Month To Insure a 26-Year- Old ???

Anyone who knows anything about Obamacare would realize that under the ACA, no 26-year-old would be asked to pay $12,000 a year – even if she had MS. Obamacare does not let insurers charge more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

And Johnson is just 26. In most exchanges, 20-somethings pay far less than older Americans.  I was certain that that she could get a much better deal. It didn’t take me long to find one.

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The Media’s One-Sided Coverage of Obamacare

Why does the media continue to insist on promoting the conservative meme that “Obamacare is a disaster”? Today Bloomberg ran a story headlined “Health-Care Law Support Hits New Low, Poll Shows

The piece begins: “Support for President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law has reached its nadir, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released today. The survey shows 62 percent of Americans opposing the law, the highest total since CNN began polling on the issue in March 2010. Just 35 percent favored it. The health-care law has been plagued by a faulty website, hindering efforts to log in and buy insurance, and by the revelation that millions of Americans could not keep their health insurance as Obama originally promised.”

It would be more accurate to say: “Support has been plagued by a faulty website—and a media determined to bury the good news while exaggerating the bad news.”

The very next sentence of the Bloomberg piece illustrates what I’m talking about: “Of those opposing the law, 15 percent said the legislation didn’t go far enough.” (If you actually look at the poll, you will find that pollsters were more explicit: 15% said the law was “not liberal enough.)  Bloomberg continues: ““Another 43 percent said the measure was too liberal based on Republican proposals such as the health-care measure championed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.”

Here is a more accurate, cleaerer  lead:  “50 percent of those polled either like the law (35% ) or think that it isn’t liberal enough (15%).”

It also is worth noting that the percent of people who think the ACA isn’t liberal enough is rising: in May 11% said the law wasn’t sufficiently progressive; last month 14% voiced that complaint. In other words, as more people learn about the details of Obamacare, more think that it’s too conservative.)

That’s quite different from the lead the reporter chose: “The survey shows 62 percent of Americans oppose the law.” Most readers would assume that means 62% are opposed to reform, when in fact 50% either support reform or would have liked a more progressive bill.

A balanced story would emphasize that the country remains deeply divided about the overhaul of our health care system. That should have been the headline: “Half of all Americans Support Legislation Sixteen percent thought they would be “better off” while 40% said they expected to be about the same.”Designed to Make U.S. Healthcare Better, More Equitable, and More Affordable.”

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