Health care reform was maybe the best-covered policy story ever. Don’t expect this same quality again

Over at the Incidental Economist, I went out on a limb and again noted the high quality of media coverage of health reform. The volume, quality, and variety of reporting have been excellent, both before and after ACA’s passage. Yet as I noted, the promising circumstances of the health reform fight were rather unique to this policy arena:

For various reasons, the health-journalism economy is much healthier and receives larger subsidies in various forms than do comparable ecosystems in climate change, education, and many other matters. Good health journalism provided a target-rich environment for advertisers. Major foundations such as RWJ, Kaiser, Century, Sloan, Heritage, and Commonwealth are quite active. Although foundations have particular public policy stances, they support research and dissemination activities that are generally at some remove from the immediate partisan and economic interests of the major players. Health Affairs, JAMA, the New England Journal of Medicine have run policy forums for many years and have strong links with many in the media. I and other TIE contributors have day jobs that complement our role commenting on health policy concerns.

This should make me happy. It doesn’t… I wonder whether any other social policy issue of comparable import could be covered nearly as well. Watching what’s happening to the news business, I doubt it. Considering the major challenges we face in many areas, that’s pretty scary.

My friend David Roberts of Grist responded offline (I reprint his email by permission):

I cannot tell you how many times during the cap-and-trade battle of 2009-10 I looked upon the coverage of the healthcare fight with envy.  For climate change, there are very few Jonathan Cohns, Ezra Kleins, and Merrill Goozners – very few in that non-government, non-NGO middle tier who combine serious knowledge of policy with the ability to write for the general public. The level of policy knowledge on cap-and-trade is abysmal. That goes for the journalists, pundits, and pols just as much as the public.

Dave downplays his own significant talents in precisely that middle-ground, translating policy knowledge on climate change for a broader audience. Others–Brad Plumer, Matt, and Mike here at TIE–have serious game here, too. Dave’s point is still well-taken. Environmental and energy policy lack the infrastructure built in health policy over several decades.

That’s not the biggest political or economic obstacle to improved public policy in this critical area. It’s still important.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

3 thoughts on “Health care reform was maybe the best-covered policy story ever. Don’t expect this same quality again”

  1. Given that most people still seem to be unaware of the actual provisions of the ACA, this give some indication of the efficacy of policy reporting with respect to informing the public.

    Not that I am surprised.

  2. I thought the coverage of the health care issues was relatively atrocious. Quick checklists of stuff in the bill could have been done very early on — and were, for Congress. Newspapers generally didn’t carry them, nor did much of anyone explain simple stuff, and historic, heritage stuff in the bill.

    But in comparison, yeah, climate change is worse.

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