The Associated Press—purveyors of neutral-point-of-view, factual journalism—sent out a story yesterday about a legal decision affecting federal policy:
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Medicaid work requirements undermine the program’s mission of providing health care for the needy, dealing a blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to push the poor toward self-sufficiency.
How many assumptions were packed into that single sentence, unexamined? The poor could be self-sufficient, in our current labor market and under our prevailing social and economic conditions. What is keeping the poor from being self-sufficient is that no one is pushing them. The Trump administration has the goal of getting the poor to become self-sufficient, by pushing them. The purpose of giving states permission to withhold Medicaid from poor people was to help poor people, by pushing them into self-sufficiency, as the Trump administration wants to do, because it is motivated to try to help poor people.
There is no reason to believe that any of those premises are true. The results of the Medicaid work requirements, to this point, look much less like the results of a program to get people jobs than like the results of a program to keep people from getting Medicaid. Since the purpose of Medicaid is to provide people with health coverage, the judge ruled that the work requirements, by knocking people off the Medicaid rolls, were not serving that purpose.
Yet the AP, even as it reported on that decision, granted the Trump administration credit for its good intentions. And because it was the AP, the claim about pushing the poor toward self-sufficiency was picked up and passed along by outlets including NBC News and the Washington Post.
More than 16,000 people in Arkansas, the judge wrote, had lost their Medicaid coverage. The AP, in the body of its story, put that number at 18,000. The facts were right there. But the message came first.