Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Pathetic Mainstream Media

Andrew Sullivan reprints the following chart of polling data on the new Health Care Reform law from the Kaiser Family Foundation:

Following Ezra Klein, Sullivan feels that the chart illustrates the difficulty Republicans will have in pursuing a repeal of the new law: almost all elements of the law are very popular (with support in the 70% range).

But something else about the chart stood out for me. Its inherent contradictions, I believe, serve as a clear illustration of the mainstream media's continuing failure to educate the American people on matters of public interest. Furthermore it is a failure that transcends partisan differences.

What caught my eye, primarily, were two items on the list:

A) 71% support for prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

B) 68% opposition to the public mandate.

The reason these two points are important is because, as any economist can tell you, you can't have one without the other. Requiring insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions while not simultaneously requiring conumsers to purchase insurance when they are well would lead to a wholesale bankruptcy of the insurance industry as consumers held off on buying medical insurance until the very moment they need it --secure in the knowledge that coverage, by law, could not be denied them.

Now, typically, the way that serious, self-important, political commentators treat data like this is to scold the American people for "wanting to have their cake and eat it too." But isn't it just as likely that the real problem is that Americans by and large have not been made aware of the essential link that holds between the insurance mandate and the prohibition against denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions? After all, in my personal experience, Americans are fairly reasonable individuals and are possessed of enough innate intelligence to grasp the essential conflict between point A and point B once it is explained to them. And in view of the well documented and widespread public belief in falsehoods as wide ranging as the "death panel" myth and the fantasy that Barack Obama raised taxes, I don't think it can be denied that the media does an awful job of educating the public (as opposed to merely reprinting disingenuous, dishonest, misleading, partisan talking points).

The reason why I think this particular issue escapes the partisan divide is this: whether you are opposed to the new Health Care Reform law or whether you support it, you need somehow to account for Americans' incompatible views on point A and B above.

If you're opposed to the law, then you probably feel that Americans' desire to see a prohibition on coverage exclusions for pre-existing conditions is predicated on their ignorance of the essential link between this provision and the provision that they be required to purchase coverage. Once Americans realize how closely tied they are, you might surmise, support for the pre-existing condition portion of the law would drop accordingly.

And vice versa: if you support the law then you probably believe that most Americans would have less of a problem with the individual mandate if they realized that it's essential to ensuring that insurers cannot deny you coverage for a preexisting condition.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum teh end result is that what you are objecting to is not the fact that Americans want the impossible. It's the fact that they don't realize that they want the impossible. They simply haven't been educated on the link between provision A and provision B. And that, my friends, is a failure of the mainstream media to do its job.

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