September 26, 2013

Fox News is busy promoting a clash Wednesday between its White House correspondent Ed Henry and White House press secretary Jay Carney over Obamacare. The exchange boiled down to a classic Washington gotcha question: Will you, Mr. Washington Politics Guy, take the very medicine you’re prescribing? In that spirit, Henry asked Carney whether he would enroll in Obamacare. (Transcript below).

To abridge Carney’s response: Sure, he would enroll if, “in a future life,” he somehow ended up deprived of employer-provided health care. But since he has coverage through his employer — the federal government — he’s okay for now. According to the Obamacare facts site: “The fact is ObamaCare does not replace private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. If you have health coverage you like, you can keep it.”

By posing this question in a White House briefing, Henry gives the impression to anyone who watches — Fox News viewers, that is — that Carney’s enrollment in an Obamacare exchange is something that the government intended to happen. In fact, it didn’t: Obamacare has always foreseen that those covered by existing employer-based plans would remain so. As Jeffrey Young has explained in the Huffington Post:

For nearly everyone else — the 170.9 million people covered by employers and the 101.5 million enrolled in government health programs — the ballyhooed launch of the Obamacare exchanges will mean little, according to health care, consumer and business experts.

Pressing Carney on whether he and his colleagues would enroll in Obamacare, thus, constitutes an effort to inflame, not to inform, the public about what’s actually going on. It’s one of those instances where a media outlet drops poor and misleading notions into the public conversation and will later make much hay of the inevitable poll results showing how confused people are about the law.

For context, consider that Fox News chief Roger Ailes has little regard for Obamacare.

Q: So let’s take the stats from the Wall Street Journal out and let’s take the attacks from Republicans out. You’re talking about enrollment. Will Jay Carney enroll in this? Will White House staff enroll in Obamacare?

JAY CARNEY: Again, everybody — you, if you have –

Q: Let’s start with you. Are you going to enroll?

CARNEY: If I, in a future life, don’t have employer –

Q: Well, you said the premiums are so great –

CARNEY: Ed — does everybody here agree that we can ask questions and answer them, but if you want to — you’re not even letting me answer the question, Ed.

Q: Please, go ahead and answer.

CARNEY: I mean, I’m not quite sure what –

Q: Would you enroll?

CARNEY: Absolutely.

Q: It’s a simple question.

CARNEY: Absolutely.

Q: Okay. So you are going to enroll?

CARNEY: If I did not — Ed, if I did not have employer-provided health insurance — like I’m sure you do, unless there’s something about Fox I don’t know — then I would absolutely enroll. And it would be more affordable because of it. And I think you’ll see that around the country.

But the whole purpose — again, a fact often either ignored or mischaracterized by critics — is that if you have insurance provided by your employer that you like, nothing changes for you. But if you change jobs, or if you get laid off, and you then take a job — you start your own business or you take a job where you’re not given insurance by your employer, you will now have — or once the marketplaces are in effect — options that were never available before, at affordable prices. And that’s the point.

And the irony of this argument that Republicans are making is that pretty soon they’re going to be making an argument that what they desperately want to do, without an alternative, is take benefits away from the American people — benefits that help them live better lives and healthier lives.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.