Silly Responses to the Obamacare Hardship Exemption Story

The biggest Obamacare story last week was belated attention given to a little noticed hardship exemption that seems broad enough to allow almost anyone to claim exemption from the law’s individual mandate. Rather than report on the exemption itself and the fact that it’s existence was kept off the website, many left wing sites tried to spin the story as much ado about nothing.

First, it’s worth noting that a couple of left-leaning sites handled the story fairly.  Talking Points Memo wrote a straight-forward story highlighting the existence of a broad 14th exemption which required no documentation. TPM even quoted Tim Jost, a supporter of the law, saying “It is hard to imagine what they were thinking when the threw the door open this wide.”

Similarly, Brian Beutler at Salon wrote a story about the exemption which, despite some pot shots at the GOP, admits that a) the exemption really is a wide open door to almost anyone and b) the administration has kept it quiet (though Beutler didn’t spell out the fact that the 14th exemption had been left off for months until it became an issue in the news last week).

Compares those stories to this piece at the Huffington Post. Author Jason Linkins seizes on the first part of a Wall Street Journal editorial and pronounces it old news. He writes “the notion that any of this has somehow escaped the attention of the media is straight nonsense.” He then offers a list of stories that reported on the 2-year extension of a previous 1-year fix for cancelled policies. He then suggests that maybe the “individual mandate extension itself” is the thing the WSJ thinks wasn’t covered by the media. Once again, he offers a list of stories about the hardship exemption from back in December. Reporters from National Journal and TPM pile on to this exercise in missing the point.

At the end of his 2,000 word takedown, Linkins still has not mentioned the 14th exemption which was right there at the core of the WSJ editorial. From the editorial’s 6th paragraph [emphasis added]:

This lax standard–no formula or hard test beyond a person’s belief–atleast ostensibly requires proof such as an insurer termination notice.But people can also qualify for hardships for the unspecified nonreasonthat “you experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance,”which only requires “documentation if possible.”

Again, TPM got it. Salon got it. But HuffPost managed to miss it entirely. It’s fitting that Media Matters links this to support its own effort at spin.

The Washington Post did a better but only marginally. This piece by Jason Millman frames a story that, as noted above, began with a WSJ editorial about an exemption created by HHS as a “GOP” effort to undercut the mandate. Millman writes “Behind these renewed attacks are the GOP’s hatred of the mandate.” Hatred? Putting aside that the GOP didn’t start this, isn’t that a bit loaded?

Despite several references to a GOP strategy in Millman’s story, there is not a single quote from any member of the GOP. However, Millman does have space for a quote from an HHS spokesman offering a weak rebuttal of the claim which amounts to, not everyone who seeks an exemption will get one. Yes, I think we all knew that. The question is how anyone can be excluded when the language of the exemption is so broad and the requirement for documentation is nil. [I’ve contacted HHS to ask them whether having trouble with the website, as many people did, would qualify someone for an exemption. They have yet to respond.]

Here are the first two graphs of the Post story. One frames the argument as part of a GOP “war” rather than a HHS created (and downplayed) fact. The other immediately rebuts the claim. Note the weasel word “essentially” in the first sentence:

In the latest war over Obamacare, the GOP is essentially trying toencourage Americans everywhere to seek an exemption from the individualmandate, the health law provision that requires everyone to getinsurance by March 31 or face a penalty.

The Obama administration says exemptions to the mandate are much morelimited than the GOP and opponents of the law would have you believe.

Again, this became a story because of an editorial in the WSJ which highlighted a mostly unnoticed exemption that even supporters of the law will admit is big enough to drive nearly everyone in the market through. The fact that it was left off the list of exemptions on suggests it was intentionally downplayed. But the gist of the story at the Post is GOP “war” and “hatred” versus cool HHS rebuttal.