10 ways to denigrate and promote the ACA

One of the ways to make sense of the never-ending news cycle is to break each week into memes--a unit of attitude or behavior.

Last week's meme was President Barack Obama expressing contrition and making amends for apparently lying to the American people about being able to retain their old health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

An organization known as Campus Reform--which bills itself as the "#1 Source For College News"--took that meme a little further than everyone else. It reported that Bowie State University in Maryland had canceled its bargain-priced student health insurance program because of new ACA regulations mandating a minimum level of benefits.

The report included several students fuming about this fact. It neglected to mention Bowie State's administration announced that it made the decision after seeking input from the student body and that "students determined that they would be better served by individually securing insurance coverage that would best suit their needs."

NewsBusters, whose motto is "exposing liberal media bias," berated more traditional media organizations, such as the Associated Press for not splashing the tragic Bowie State story all over the news wires. Apparently this goaded a local television station and the website The Blaze to pick up the story.

So in the spirit of this invitation--and for the sake of further clarifying the state of healthcare finance--I did a little digging of my own. Here's what I found:

1. Bowie State University's insurance coverage was capped at $5,000 an illness or injury, coverage university spokeswoman Cassandra Robinson readily admitted to me was "minimal." As I noted in an article last week, some hospitals will run up $30,000-plus in charges for a few stitches and a tetanus shot. And the patient in that case knocked $13,000 off his bill just by asking, an act that costs $108 less a year than the price of Bowie State's policy.

2. Campus Reform didn't ask students if they actually purchased this policy. As a matter of fact, one student said he wasn't even aware Bowie State had stopped selling insurance. Bowie State apparently automatically purchased coverage for its students, the funds coming from student fees. I don't think anyone is complaining about that extra $108--the cost of purchasing that policy for the two-semester academic year--now lining their pockets.

3. Campus Reform never asked the students where their insurance actually came from. Because of the ACA, students are now able to stay on their parents' policies until the age of 26. "In our discussions with students last year, they argued that because most have coverage options with their parents, they did not favor a mandatory plan through the university at significantly higher cost," Robinson said. And starting in January, they could also purchase heavily subsidized coverage on Maryland's health insurance exchange or enroll in Medicaid.

4. If Campus Reform asked students if they were bankrupted because they thought this insurance would actually cover them when they were sick or injured, the question and answers didn't appear. Perhaps it's somewhere in the outtakes.

5. The piece can't be considered journalism. What this article actually amounted to was a conservative group masquerading as a news organization to get students at a historically black college to badmouth the President and his health plan. Not surprisingly, Bowie State wasn't amused by the report. Although Robinson said journalists do not need permission to interview students on campus, virtually every news organization asks first. "Neither Campus Reform nor Katherine Timpf (the reporter) contacted the university's communications offices for any comment or fact-checking regarding this story," she told me.

In the meantime, it's about time hospitals create some ACA-related memes that work in their favor. Most large facilities have an audiovisual department with substantial capabilities. Here are some of the possibilities:

1. Interview some patients who received care after partaking in early Medicaid enrollments in California and other states. I'm sure at least one of them is grateful they're no longer staring penury in the face because they or a family member dared to get ill--unlike the Bowie State students who were carrying the university's minimal health insurance because they had no other choice. 

2. Put your directors of community benefits on camera. And have them discuss how the extra revenue coming in from insured patients means they'll be able to expand benefits to those who remain uninsured.

3. Put your directors of quality on camera. And have them discuss how the ACA's quality mandates have cut down on readmissions, hospital-acquired infections and other long-accepted dysfunctions. I'm sure there are also some grateful patients and family members who can discuss this as well.

4. Put your CEOs on camera to discuss why minimal health insurance plans help neither patients nor their providers. And have them discuss their levels of uncompensated care and why the ACA is so important to the long-term survival of your institutions.

5. Point out some of the other college-related health policies that are still in effect. A good place to start might be Hillsdale College, which has educated 40 percent of Campus Reform's editorial staff.

Despite the ACA regs about coverage minimums, Hillsdale continues to offer a restricted benefits health policy to its students (with a $50,000 annual cap). Not only is it many times more expensive than the dropped Bowie State plan, it charges extortionate rates for dependent coverage--a married student with a couple of kids could wind up paying nearly $6,500 for a 10-month policy. It also doesn't cover pre-existing conditions--an issue the ACA addresses. And the coverage lapses during the summer recess. I'm certain there are some Hillsdale students out there who were left on the hook for some big medical bills as a result.

I can't wait to see Campus Reform's forthcoming investigative report.--Ron(@FierceHealth)

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