Trump and the GOP are already making American health care much worse — why is the media ignoring it?
With President Donald Trump in the White House, so many scandals and outrages pour forth every day that the news media has difficulty keeping up, let alone focusing on what is most important.
And though many perceive that media as being broadly critical of Trump — and there's certainly some truth in this, though most criticism is more than warranted — this dynamic actually lets the president get by with a lot that his predecessors would have gotten slammed for.
Consider, for instance, the number of uninsured Americans.
When the Affordable Care Act — AKA Obamacare — was enacted, the uninsured rate in the United States plunged from a peak of 18 percent to 10.9 percent, according to Gallup, representing an increase in the insured population of more than 20 million people, a massive jump. This was a historic achievement, but still, Obama got dogged criticism, much of it fair, for Obamacare's oversights and failures.
Since 2016, however, the trajectory of health insurance in the United States has completely reversed, Gallup has found. From the low of 10.9 percent in its last year, the uninsured rate ticked up to 13.7 percent, a four-year high. That's an increase of about 7 million people without coverage. Instead of building on Obama's progress, Trump has gone backward.
What's driving this isn't entirely clear, but reporter Sarah Kliff argued in January that it can be accounted for by rising premiums, the Trump administration's various efforts to sabotage Obamacare, and the mistaken belief that Republicans have actually repealed the ACA.
But whatever the reason, one thing is clear: Trump has failed on his promise to the American people. For the most part, though, the media just ignores this fact.
Gallup's numbers were first reported on pretty widely when they were released back in January. But even then, the topic wasn't a dominant story. It didn't attract the national news media's interest the way Obamacare stories did under the previous president.
One might argue that this is only fair, because Obamacare was Obama's accomplishment, not Trump's. It's only reasonable to give greater scrutiny to the uninsured rate when the single largest accomplishment of the sitting president is a health care law.
But though it's easy to forget, Republicans were all about health care for a long time, too. Since 2010, when Obamacare passed, the GOP has promised to repeal it. It was a central theme of every election. In 2016, Trump himself said not only that he would repeal and replace Obamacare but that he would replace it with something much better. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” he said.
“I am going to take care of everybody," he told CBS's "60 Minutes." "Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
It wasn't just Trump. Paul Ryan pledged in discussing repeal and replace: "We want every American to have access to quality, affordable health coverage."
Now, when the subject is discussed, what's typically mentioned is the fact that Trump failed to repeal and replace Obamacare. Or the fact that, despite their promises to keep its protections in place, the Republican Party and the Trump administration have lined up behind a legal challenge that could prompt the Supreme Court to eradicate Obamacare root and branch. Or the administration's efforts to promote junk health insurance plans.
All of this is important. And yet in all these arguments, it seems the thread has been lost. Despite his explicit promises the contrary, health care has already become more difficult to get under President Trump, and millions more people are going without insurance. This is either directly because of actions his administration has taken or because of his failures to live up to his promises. There are many other scandals going on every day in the news cycle, so it's understandable that this fact could get lost.
But the failure of this fact to land on the national radar also comes from a more pernicious fact: reporters never took the GOP's or Trump's claims to want to improve health care in the United States seriously. Even when they reported Republicans' claims credulously, almost anyone in a position to professionally cover politics knew enough to be confident that the party really didn't care about or intend on increasing the number of people who have insurance.
So when Trump actually led to an increase in the uninsured rate, this didn't seem like much of a surprise or revelatory story. Contrast this to reporter's attitudes under Obama, who's every health care failure was regarded (rightly!) as a serious story. In this way, the GOP's duplicity is rewarded, while Democratic sincerity is punished.
But health care is still a top-tier issue that voters care about it. The media would better serve the public by making Trump's galling failure clear.