Local Television News Coverage of the Affordable Care Act: Emphasizing Politics Over Consumer Information

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Abstract

Objectives

To examine the public health and policy-relevant messages conveyed through local television news during the first stage of Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation, when about 10 million Americans gained insurance.

Methods

We conducted a content analysis of 1569 ACA-related local evening television news stories, obtained from sampling local news aired between October 1, 2013, and April 19, 2014. Coders systematically collected data using a coding instrument tracking major messages and information sources cited in the news.

Results

Overall, only half of all ACA-related news coverage focused on health insurance products, whereas the remainder discussed political disagreements over the law. Major policy tools of the ACA-the Medicaid expansion and subsidies available-were cited in less than 10% of news stories. Number of enrollees (27%) and Web site glitches (33%) were more common features of coverage. Sources with a political affiliation were by far the most common source of information (> 40%), whereas research was cited in less than 4% of stories.

Conclusions

The most common source of news for Americans provided little public health-relevant substance about the ACA during its early implementation, favoring political strategy in coverage.

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