AC Alert for July 2, 2012 10:08 AM June 28th: Health Care Decision: Confusion Reigns - "Supreme"

Jul 3, 2012 10:20 AM ET

It was 10 a.m. last Thursday -- not the time of day neither Bob nor his wife Judy normally watches TV. Bob is usually busy feeding the eight horses they have raised on their rural Pennsylvania farm, while Judy is 14 miles distant at her job in a local hospital. However, they had both heard that the US Supreme Court decision concerning the consitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (usually referred to a "Obamacare") was due to be announced at that time  --  and they had a lot riding on that decision.

Their 24-year old daughter Brittany graduated from college last year and has been struggling to find a full time job. So for now, she is on their medical insurance plan, something which was not possible before the ACA was signed into law in 2010. If the Supreme Court were to strike down ACA, they feared their daughter could lose that coverage.

Bob tuned in to CNN at home while Judy was constantly glancing at the TV in the hospital which was tuned to the local CBS affiliate. It seemed like all of the TV stations were providing wall-to-wall coverage as the court's decision was announced, but what Bob and Judy each heard was dramatically different.

Bob was in fact a bit dismayed as he heard CNN's announcers declare that the decision struck down the insurance mandate, the lynchpin of the law. "A Major blow to the President" was the way one announcer summarized the decision. He grabbed his cell phone and called his wife: "Judy I can't believe this if the health care law goes away, what is Brittany going to do for medical insurance? She may have to just roll the dice and do without coverage until she gets a job."

Judy said she had no idea what he was talking about -- according to CBS News the law had been upheld and everything would stay the same. Truth be known, they both had heard their respective news reports correctly; it was just that CNN at first had got it wrong.

According to the Washington Post. “In the rush to report the Supreme Court’s health care decision on Thursday, CNN and Fox News Channel initially got the story wrong, briefly worrying President Barack Obama, delighting Republican lawmakers and reminding journalists that accuracy trumps speed.”

What caused the problem was a 59- page decision from the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision that basically upheld the Affordable Care Act but struck down an important provision.   For five or so minutes headlines and banners blared on CNN and Fox that the Health Care Act had been struck down.

The Washington Post indicated that on CNN  “Anchor Wolf Blitzer and reporter Kate Bolduan reported at 10:08 a.m. that the health care law was struck down, based on a reading of Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision that the mandate was not a valid exercise of congressional power under the commerce clause.”  This “wrong news” scenario lasted until 10:15 a.m. when the corrections were finally made.

In the final analysis, the need to know fell victim to the need to get it right - right away - and all involved certainly had some egg on their faces.  The lesson for all those journalists will not soon be forgotten. Check your facts...check your facts...check your experienced editors’ stress, this should always be the first priority.

Even though the legality of the ACA has been affirmed by the highest court in the land, the nation remains engaged in one of the most heated and emotional government public policy debates since the days of the Viet Nam War.

Liberals, conservatives, moderates, independents, Democrats and Republicans, libertarians, Tea Partiers  -- all are using the “facts” and a fair amount of rumors and suppositions to support their side of the argument in favor or against the current system and the Supreme Court decision. The heated debate has led to more questions than answers. 

The editors of Accountability Central are focused on bringing you all sides and perspectives on the issue in our Health Care Hot Topic section,  presenting the news as well as the opinion of some of the best minds and institutions in the nation -- well identified and well-balanced.  Here are some recent excerpts:

Top court upholds health care law in Obama triumph
(Source: Reuters) The Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama's health care law on Thursday in an election-year triumph for him and fellow Democrats who championed the most sweeping overhaul since the 1960s of the U.S. health care system.

Tax label is a small price to pay for survival of health care reform
(Source: Los Angeles Times) Democrats had gone to great lengths during the congressional debate over the health care law to argue that they were not passing a new tax. And Republicans immediately seized on the Supreme Court's language to tag Obama as a tax raiser. But for the president and his aides, who had staked the success of Obama's presidency on passage of the health care law, that tax label seemed a small price to pay.

Split-second reporting on complicated US health care ruling trips up CNN, Fox
(Source: Washington Post) In the rush to report the Supreme Court’s health care decision on Thursday, CNN and Fox News Channel initially got the story wrong, briefly worrying President Barack Obama, delighting Republican lawmakers and reminding journalists that accuracy trumps speed.

States Face a Challenge to Meet Health Law’s Deadline
(Source: New York Times) The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act shifts the focus from whether sweeping changes to the health insurance market should take place to a scramble to meet the law’s rapidly approaching deadlines.

Some GOP-led states plan to resist health care law, as ruling reins in Medicaid expansion
Source: Fox News) Leaders of the 26 states that challenged the federal health care law in court have one luxury with the outcome -- they can do nothing. While the Supreme Court upheld the bulk of the Affordable Care Act, it did rein in the law's expansion of Medicaid by ruling that the federal government could not withhold Medicaid funds to those states that don't comply. The absence of any punitive measures means there is nothing to compel the governors or attorneys general to begin implementation of that section of the law.

This is just a sampling of the information in our Alert. Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.