Academics: Media added to reform confusion

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Health News Florida’s Carol Gentry talked to journalism professors at three major Florida universities about the effect of media coverage on public perception of health care reform. The trio suggested that the media muddied the issue by focusing coverage on the political horse-race aspects while neglecting to invest the time necessary to fully explain the proposed legislation’s finer details.

In a column for AHCJ, Trudy Lieberman, the organization’s immediate past president has discussed some of the same shortcomings of health reform coverage. The academics say this is nothing new – many of the same issues surfaced during Clinton’s health reform push in the early ’90s, but say today’s fragmented media environment and 24-hour news cycle have certainly exacerbated matters.

[Kim Walsh-Childers, University of Florida journalism professor] said many Americans get their information from talk radio or blogs, “which are far less likely to provide balanced, complete information than are traditional news outlets, especially newspapers.”

“Even those who read newspapers may be getting far more information about the political strategies (of) the various stakeholders … than they are about what those proposals actually would mean for the average family,” Walsh-Childers continued.

Walsh-Childers praised NPR and The New York Times for their more thoughtful reform coverage, and said layoffs of experienced health reporters had likely weakened coverage at many outlets.

Gentry also cited surveys conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that peoples’ opinions of reform changed when they were better informed of the bills’ actual components.

Surveyors found that while a majority said they were opposed to the legislation, support grew markedly when survey participants found out the major parts of the plan.

Three-fourths became more favorable when they heard about tax credits for small businesses and two-thirds liked what they heard about health exchanges, constraints on health insurers and plugging the Medicare prescription-drug “doughnut hole.”

Related

More columns by Lieberman about coverage of health reform:

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