NBC Goes Easy on ObamaCare, Downplays Gov't Coercion of Insurers

NBC's Today softened any criticism of ObamaCare on Monday at the deadline to purchase health coverage for the new year.

White House correspondent Peter Alexander framed long wait times on the Washington, D.C. health exchange as evidence of "a last-minute spike in demand." And even though he reported that current enrollment numbers are "far shy" of what the administration hoped for, Alexander cited "experts" downplaying the importance of the numbers.

"[E]xperts say who enrolls is more important than how many enroll," Alexander reported. "Emphasizing the need to get enough young healthy people to balance the costs for older and sicker Americans." He also featured a "holiday-inspired tweet from the Washington, D.C. exchange" trying to increase enrollment.

At the end of the report, NBC innocently noted that the administration "has encouraged insurers to give a short grace period" to customers who haven't yet paid for their plans, and that "most insurers have agreed to that." Actually, as Avik Roy noted at Forbes, it was coercion and not encouragement.

"[T]he government is using the full force of its regulatory powers, under ObamaCare, to threaten insurers if they don't comply," Roy wrote. "All you have to do is read the menacing language in the new regulations that HHS published this week, in which HHS says it may throw otherwise qualified health plans off of the exchanges next year if they don't comply with the government's 'requests'."

Unlike CBS, NBC did quote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) expressing concern over the law's effectiveness. And Alexander did note apprehension among supporters, although it was over selling the law to young people and not about the law itself.

"Administration officials say the federal website Healthcare.gov can handle any last minute rush of consumers, but there really is a pretty deep concern, especially among health care advocates, that the word may still not be getting out to the people who need the coverage the most," Alexander reported.

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on December 23 on Today at 7:04 a.m. EST:

WILLIE GEIST: Today marks an important deadline for President Obama's health care law, the last to sign up for coverage starting on January 1st. Meantime he is on vacation in Hawaii. Last night the first family took a little time to enjoy a college basketball game coached by the First Lady's brother Craig Robinson. NBC's White House correspondent Peter Alexander is traveling with the President. Peter. Good morning.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC News White House correspondent: Willie, good morning to you. Here we like to say "aloha." Administration officials say the federal website Healthcare.gov can handle any last minute rush of consumers, but there really is a pretty deep concern, especially among health care advocates, that the word may still not be getting out to the people who need the coverage the most.

(Video Clip)

ALEXANDER: (voice over) After a tortured roll out, today's the first real deadline. The last day to enroll for health coverage beginning January 1st.

LARRY LEVITT, Kaiser Family Foundation: How many people sign up by December 23rd will really be the first true test of how well this law is working and in particular how well Healthcare.gov, the federal website, is now functioning.

ALEXANDER: On social media, a final push. This holiday-inspired tweet from the Washington, D.C. Exchange. "Instead of socks or an ugly sweater, how about #health insurance for Christmas?" And as anticipated, a last-minute spike in demand. When we called this weekend, a nearly two hour wait.

OPERATOR: Your estimated time is 105 minutes.

ALEXANDER: The President recently said more than a million Americans have already enrolled but that's far shy of the 3 million plus the administration hoped to have signed up by this point. But experts say who enrolls is more important than how many enroll. Emphasizing the need to get enough young healthy people to balance the costs for older and sicker Americans. A series of late changes have complicated the process, including the administration's latest move allowing more flexibility for the millions who got cancellation letters. Some Democrats have repeated their calls for a one year delay, warning ObamaCare could collapse if the problems continue.

Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.): If it's so much more expensive than what we anticipated and that the coverage isn't as good as we've had, you've got a complete meltdown at that time.

(End Video Clip)

ALEXANDER: Still uncertain is how many Americans will pay their premiums before the end of this month. They need to do that for their coverage to begin. The White House has encouraged insurers to give a short grace period and, Savannah and Willie, most insurers have agreed to that.

ā€” Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matt Hadro on Twitter.