Starting in the year 2014, most people will be required to have health insurance, and pay a penalty if they don’t (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2012). Coverage may be provided by an employer, purchased, or obtained through Medicaid. According to a public poll on the Kaiser website, only sixty-four percent of Americans understood this provision of the act correctly. There is a gap in understanding here because many Americans believe not only that bill was unconstitutional (which is why it survived as a tax), but that “President Obama had previously stated that he would not enforce a tax on the middle class” (Tumulty, 2010). This tax is also perceived to become a penalty on all citizens who do not purchase health care. We can see by this example that there were misunderstandings of the Supreme Court’s process, the reason for the Supreme Court’s decision in upholding the bill, and a misrepresentation of a previous and unrelated statement made by Obama.
Earlier versions of the law contained provisions that would allow Medicare to reimburse physicians for voluntary discussions with patients about end-of-life care (thewhitehouse.gov, 2012). Even though this provision was dropped from final legislation, many Americans still believe that the law will have this control. According to the same poll, less than half of Americans were aware that this had been changed (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2012). We can see from this example that gaps can also be unintentionally created by the changing revisions of the law, and that misunderstanding of this type this may continue to happen until the bill becomes fully effective in the year 2014.
News media also made headlines with the misconception that the reform would require all businesses to provide health insurance for their employees, regardless of the size of the business (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2012). This is not so, but also widely misunderstood. “Although not all employers will be required to provide healthcare to employees, the law can impose penalties (“thewhitehouse.gov,”2012). They can also be penalized if employers do offer health coverage that is unaffordable. Because of the wording and the way that these provisions are portrayed, these factors are being perceived as requirements, even though the law says otherwise.
Clearly, we have demonstrated that gaps exist between media representation, reality, and public opinion on any given issue. Because perception is often based on the point of view of the journalist and on the different perspective and opinions of their viewers, it cannot always be reality. Reality includes the raw facts, and perception is often based on opinions, feelings, non-truths, misunderstandings, and rhetoric. Therefore, there is always a discrepancy between the concepts of truth and perception within the media because of the way that information is delivered.
As American citizens, we can do our part by recognizing that mass media is a business and as such, is subject to the demands of its customers. Mass media is a dual-commodity system. Their first commodity is the news itself. The more quality news they produce, the more viewers they attract. The second commodity is US. The more viewers they attract, the more advertisers they attract. Each pair of American eyeballs is worth money to a news outlet. We have a responsibility to demand the unvarnished truth from our media outlets. We have a responsibility to become hungry for it. If we, as a people, demand the truth, we will get it. If we continue down the path of begrudgingly accepting the news we get, the media will continue to report what it wants. We have a responsibility, for our own educations, to demand en masse that the media report what WE want.