October 16, 2013

When Ed Henry left CNN for Fox News a few years back, critics wondered how he’d handle working at a conservative news organization. Like any good Fox Newser, Henry fell back on the network’s allegedly airtight editorial wall: “Sean Hannity has a show, it’s on in the evening, it’s about opinion, and I doubt I’ll ever be a guest on it. I do my thing during the day, the straight reporting from the White House,” Henry told Men’s Health in the summer of 2011.

Host Sean Hannity, indeed, spews sharp opinions every night on his show, “Hannity.” He doesn’t like Obamacare. Yet he cannot approach the anti-Obamacare effectiveness of Ed Henry, who uses the thick jungle of objectivity to launch his guerrilla attacks on the White House’s dearest initiative.

As pointed out previously in this space, Henry asked White House press secretary Jay Carney if he’d bag his health insurance in favor of Obamacare — presumably the health-care exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The inquiry ignored that the law itself was designed to leave in place employer-based insurance plans, which Carney and other federal workers rely upon.

Yesterday afternoon, Henry chatted with Fox News host Stuart Varney about a possible hiccup in efforts to end the government shutdown. Henry summed up the problem as follows:

There is one important string attached, at least….And that is that there is a bit of the president’s health care law attached to this, a change to it. Which is that Speaker Boehner wants to use this language that Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, has been pushing for some time, to make sure that members of Congress in both parties, the president and vice president and his Cabinet and, importantly, congressional staff in both parties have to live under Obamacare (1) and give up their generous subsidies that they already have (2), give up their generous sort-of Cadillac plans on Capitol Hill (3) and in the executive branch as well, and live under the exchanges like the rest of the country (4), something the White House has resisted, something, frankly, leaders in both parties on Capitol Hill have resisted (5).

Bolded text and footnotes added to highlight distortions and worse. Let’s have a look:

(1) Here, Henry suggests that implementation of this language would require congressional staffers to “live under Obamacare.” They are already doing that. As of Dec. 31, lawmakers and their staffers will be kicked out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and pushed onto the exchanges.

(2) Yes, those working in and for Congress have long enjoyed an employer contribution to their health-care plans, as have employees across the country. But generous? As noted here, the employer contribution to congressional plans averages out at about 72 percent of premiums. Across the country, employers cover 82 percent of single-coverage insurance plans and 71 percent of family plans, according to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Average, in other words.

(3) See No. (2)

(4) There are two problems with this jumble of misleading words. First, as already explained, Capitol Hill is already being forced to “live under the exchanges.” Yet when Henry says that these folks would have to buy their insurance on the exchanges “like the rest of the country,” he propagates a distortion that could leave viewers with a poor understanding of the ACA. In fact, the “rest of the country” will not have to buy insurance on the exchanges. According to that same Kaiser report, “employer-sponsored insurance covers about 149 million nonelderly people,” or 56 percent of the non-elderly population. So, more than half of the “rest of the country” will not be venturing out onto the exchanges. Henry himself, a Fox News employee, is likely one of these people.

(5) Correct! Leaders on Capitol Hill have indeed opposed these changes, for strong reasons that may never be properly explained to Fox News viewers.

Hannity would be proud.

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