OUR TAKE: Out of Focus on Health Policy Coverage
As the editor of a “cover-the-coverage” publication, I have the opportunity to peruse hundreds of media sources daily, in an effort to bring our readers the best health policy news. Through that effort, I often discern trends in coverage.
One trend is that newspapers over the previous few years have begun dedicating fewer and fewer reporters to health policy coverage. That’s no surprise; newspaper staffs in general are waning, as evidenced by today’s report that the Washington Post will be offering certain staffers buyouts.
Because of that dearth of health policy reporters, it becomes more significant that those limited numbers of dedicated reporters provide an accurate picture of the health policy landscape. However, in the last week, I’ve noticed that there’s been an alarming imbalance in the health policy news, heavily focused on two main issues:
- The new requirements under the federal health reform law that health plans offer no-cost contraception coverage and the resulting backlash from religious groups; and
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision – and subsequent reversal – to halt funding to Planned Parenthood.
Before I go on, I want to note that the issues of no-cost contraception, breast cancer screenings and Planned Parenthood funding are extremely important. They certainly deserve coverage. This is in no way intended to detract from their importance.
However, that coverage has come at the expense of covering other heath policy issues. In this case, there’s been a relative lack of coverage of the following issues, among others.
- House Democrats’ concern with HHS’ deference to states on the essential health benefits rules;
- A federal appeals court ruling that U.S. residents enrolled in Social Security are legally entitled to Medicare;
- The conference committee attempting to come to an agreement on a yearlong patch for the sustainable growth rate formula — known as a “doc fix” — which sets Medicare physician reimbursement rates; and
- States and the National Federation of Independent Business filing briefs with the Supreme Court in the multistate lawsuit against the federal health reform law.
A simple Google News search shows just how imbalanced health news has been in the last seven days. Below are the search terms I used and the number of news articles that were found.
From Feb. 1 to Feb. 8:
Contraception – 6,030 results
Planned Parenthood – 9,620 results
Komen – 37,400 results
“Doc fix” – 172 results
Sustainable growth rate – 89 results
SGR – 385 results
Kate Nocera, curator of Politico‘s “Pulse” – a daily compendium of health policy news – noted in this morning’s edition:
“By my last count there were eight stories on contraception/abortion/Komen/Planned Parenthood on the homepage last night. So yeah guys, if you were confused, POLITICO is ON IT.”
Actually, Kate, it’s worse than you think.
As of 1:51 p.m. on Feb. 8
(All stories were on the front page of Politico.com)
* I’m not sure this one should count, considering it’s about Michelle Obama taking on late-night host Jimmy Fallon in a “fitness contest.”
Meanwhile, “Wonkblog” — the motto of which is “Economic and domestic policy, and lots of it” – is even more unbalanced. In August, “Wonkblog” brought on Sarah Kliff — formerly of Politico and Nocera’s predecessor on “Pulse” — presumably to bolster its health policy coverage. In the past week, Kliff has focused on contraception and the Komen/Planned Parenthood funding flap.
As of 2:24 p.m. on Feb. 8
(Stories are from Feb. 1 to Feb. 8)
When the news is so skewed toward those issues, it presents a blurry picture of the health policy landscape. Sure, I get it – contraception and Planned Parenthood are emotional issues that capture readers on both sides of the debate. With the news business as it is these days, it makes sense for newspapers to do everything they can to get readers to visit their sites so they can make money off advertisements. However, in the name of chasing clicks, health policy reporters have lost sight of the forest for the trees. Further, they’ve abdicated their responsibility to cover the important health policy issues – all of them.
By Anthony Wilson, Editor