April 4, 2012

The Health Care Debate is Back in the News

% of newshole
Q3 2009 17.5
Q4 2009 12.9
Q1 2010 14.1
Q2 2010 1.8
Q3 2010 1.6
Q4 2010 1.6
Q1 2011 2.5
Q2 2011 1.1
Q3 2011 1.1
Q4 2011 1.3
Q1 2012 4.7

1st – Rank of health care reform among mainstream news topics last week

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began its much anticipated hearings on the Obama Administration’s health care reform law, focusing largely on its fundamental provision— the requirement that all individuals carry health insurance.

Given the stakes of those hearings, media attention to the health care issue accounted for 21% of the newshole from March 26-April 1, making it the week’s No. 1 story and representing the most coverage since Barack Obama signed the historic bill into law the week of March 22-28, 2010 (45% of the newshole).

Indeed, until recently, the health care debate—which raged in the summer of 2009 and early 2010—had almost dropped off the media radar screen.

In the third quarter of 2009, with passions fueled by angry town hall meetings, coverage of the health care debate accounted for 18% of the newshole, making it the No. 1 story that period. And during the legislative and political struggle that culminated in the passage of the measure, coverage accounted for 13% in the last quarter of 2009 and 14% the first quarter of 2010—with the subject remaining the top story in that period.

But since health care reform became law—and despite expectations it would be the dominant factor in the 2010 midterm elections—coverage of the subject has never exceeded 2% of the overall newshole  in any quarter from April 2010 through December 2011.

That changed in the first three months of 2012, with coverage rising to 5% of the newshole. The week of February 6-12, the story first made a comeback (9% of the newshole) as the debate over whether religious institutions should be forced to cover contraception in their health insurance plans emerged as a major issue. Four weeks later, Rush Limbaugh’s controversial comments about a Georgetown law student helped drive coverage (10%) from March 5-11.

That was followed by the Supreme Court hearings, which pushed media attention to a two-year high. 

Tricia Sartor of PEJ