Objectives. To examine the public health and policy-relevant messages conveyed through local television news during the first stage of Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation, when about 10 million Americans gained insurance.

Methods. We conducted a content analysis of 1569 ACA-related local evening television news stories, obtained from sampling local news aired between October 1, 2013, and April 19, 2014. Coders systematically collected data using a coding instrument tracking major messages and information sources cited in the news.

Results. Overall, only half of all ACA-related news coverage focused on health insurance products, whereas the remainder discussed political disagreements over the law. Major policy tools of the ACA—the Medicaid expansion and subsidies available—were cited in less than 10% of news stories. Number of enrollees (27%) and Web site glitches (33%) were more common features of coverage. Sources with a political affiliation were by far the most common source of information (> 40%), whereas research was cited in less than 4% of stories.

Conclusions. The most common source of news for Americans provided little public health–relevant substance about the ACA during its early implementation, favoring political strategy in coverage.


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Sarah E. Gollust, PhD, Laura M. Baum, MURP, Jeff Niederdeppe, PhD, Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP, and Erika Franklin Fowler, PhDSarah E. Gollust is with the Division of Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis. Laura M. Baum is with the Wesleyan Media Project, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. Jeff Niederdeppe is with the Department of Communication, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Colleen L. Barry is with the Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD. Erika Franklin Fowler is with the Department of Government and the Wesleyan Media Project, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. “Local Television News Coverage of the Affordable Care Act: Emphasizing Politics Over Consumer Information”, American Journal of Public Health 107, no. 5 (May 1, 2017): pp. 687-693.


PMID: 28207336