First impressions: geographic variation in media messages during the first phase of ACA implementation

Sarah E Gollust, Colleen L Barry, Jeff Niederdeppe, Laura Baum, Erika Franklin Fowler
Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 2014, 39 (6): 1253-62
Many Americans will learn about the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) through the mass media. We examined geographic variation in the volume and content of mass media during the initial two-week rollout of the new health insurance marketplaces in October 2013 across 210 US media markets, using data from the Wesleyan Media Project. We found substantial geographic variation in the volume and tone of insurance product advertisements, political advertisements, and news coverage of the ACA marketplaces. News coverage of the ACA airing in media markets located in states operating federal or partnership marketplaces was more negative than coverage airing in markets located in states running their own marketplaces. Intrastate variation in media volume and content was also substantial and appears distinguishable from the local political climate. Variation in exposure to media messages likely affects public sentiment regarding the ACA and could contribute to geographic differences in insurance enrollment and public perceptions of US health care options. Researchers and policy makers evaluating the implementation of the ACA-and insurance enrollment in the marketplaces in particular-should consider addressing media influences.

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