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CBS Lets Sebelius' Former Adviser at HHS Spin for ObamaCare

CBS This Morning did its best over two days to put the most positive spin on the rollout of the ObamaCare insurance exchanges. On Saturday, the newscast turned to Bloomberg's Peter Gosselin, who likened the exchanges to "shopping for anything online on Amazon". However, the program failed to point out that Gosselin once worked in the Obama administration, and advised HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on health policy.

Two days later, the morning show turned to CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger, who followed Gosselin's lead in likening the exchanges to a popular website: "This is really like going to shop for a flight on Travelocity." Schlesinger also noted that ObamaCare "has to get young, healthy people in it, or else the math does not work". However, she insisted just moments later that the marketplaces will "work out all right", despite the initial glitches. [MP3 audio available here; video below]

The CBS morning newscast brought on Gosselin to explain the health care exchanges. Substitute anchor Anne-Marie Green wondered, "How will it work?" The former speechwriter to former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner led with his Amazon line, and explained that "there's one big difference, which is that health insurance is really expensive and too expensive for many people to afford on their own. And the theory behind the bill is it's good for America if everybody's covered." Of course, the guest omitted that Amazon also doesn't have the power to penalize you if you don't buy health insurance.

It should be pointed out that Gosselin not only worked for Sebelius, but introduced his former boss when she gave the keynote address at the 2013 award ceremony for the Newhouse School Public Communication's Toner Prize. The award is named for the Bloomberg analyst's late wife, Robin Toner.

CBS This Morning did a similar explanatory segment with Schlesinger on Monday, where the analyst played up the supposed upsides of ObamaCare:

NORAH O'DONNELL: So, people who can start shopping tomorrow, where will they be able to find information about where to buy insurance and how much will it cost?

JILL SCHLESINGER: Okay. It's very confusing, but it really isn't, okay? So, what you need to know, is if you go to one of these marketplaces at HealthCare.gov...you're going to see different types of coverage for each – say, like covering 60 to 90 percent of your health care costs. You can choose it. Remember, this is like-

O'DONNELL: There's a gold plan and a platinum plan-

SCHLESINGER: There's – right – the precious metals plans – and you know what's interesting, is this is really like going to shop for a flight on Travelocity. You're going to a place; you're comparing cost; you're choosing coverage. That's what you need to know. This is all starting tomorrow.

O'DONNELL But Jill, you make it sound so easy. There have been so many reports of glitches already.

SCHLESINGER: Well, I think that any rollout – a website and a huge initiative – there are going to be glitches. But the concept should be easy....

O'DONNELL: There's a lot of examples of how much it costs. But the penalty if you don't buy...may cost several hundred dollars a month; or you get to pay – what the penalty? Ninety-five dollars a year. Won't a lot of people end up just paying the penalty?

SCHLESINGER: Well, remember, the penalty is $95 a year, or one percent of your income – whichever is greater. That's for next year. The cost goes up in the next couple of years. So, when we get to the year 2016, it's $695 per person, or two-and-a-half percent of your income. That's a real incentive. Look, this plan has to get young, healthy people in it, or else the math does not work.

CHARLIE ROSE: And if there's a government shutdown?

SCHLESINGER: We're open for business at the Affordable Care Act. The reason is, that this is a funded program. So, everything will work tomorrow – hopefully, as planned. Yes, there will be technical glitches, but everyone – this thing will work out all right. Don't worry.

The full transcript of the Peter Gosselin segment from Saturday's CBS This Morning:

ANTHONY MASON: It's just three days until enrollment begins for the Affordable Care Act – or, as even the President sometimes calls it, ObamaCare. And if you're like most, you have a lot of questions.

Peter Gosselin is a senior health care analyst for Bloomberg Government. He joins us from our Washington bureau. Peter, good morning.

PETER GOSSELIN, SENIOR HEALTH CARE ANALYST FOR BLOOMBERG GOV'T: Good morning.

MASON: To begin with, as we mentioned, I think a lot of people are very confused by this. Let's start with the basics: who is this intended for?

GOSSELIN: Well, in a real sense, it's for everybody as a fallback in case you lose your employer health insurance coverage, which is where most Americans get their insurance. But more immediately, it's for people who don't have employer coverage, or don't have any coverage at all, and especially for low and middle-income Americans, say $40,000 to $45,000 a year for an individual up to $90,000 or $1,000 [sic] in annual income for a family.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: All right. Well, basic question number two: how will it work?

GOSSELIN: Well, once it's fully up and running, you'll go online and it'll be a lot like shopping for anything online on Amazon. You'll look at the different health insurance plans that are offered in your area and you'll pick the one that works best for you and your family and you'll hit 'buy'. But there's one big difference, which is that health insurance is really expensive and too expensive for many people to afford on their own. And the theory behind the bill is it's good for America if everybody's covered. So when this family hits 'buy', they'll pay part of the bill and the government will pay the rest.

MASON: So, Peter, what's it likely to cost then?

GOSSELIN: Well, let's take a family sort of in the middle of the pack who this bill is supposed to help. Say $50,000 a year. Four-person family, $50,000-a-year income. They buy a plan that covers all the basics but may not be quite as generous as an employer plan. The price tag is going to be something like $800 a month or $9,000 or $10,000 a year. The family's going to have to pay something like $300 a month or $3,400 a year. But that other $500 a month or $5,900, $6,000 a year, the government will pick up.

GREEN: You mentioned it would be, sort of, like shopping on Amazon. But a lot of people don't have access to the Internet. A lot of people have never done that before. What, then, for those people?

GOSSELIN: Well, the government has set up a whole lot of big call centers. And actually if you go to HealthCare.gov online, you can find the 800 numbers for these call centers. And you call; you begin to give the information; and they'll send you a paper application. They'll take the information right over the phone. The one thing there will not be is there are not going to be store fronts with 'ObamaCare' over the door. The whole idea of this bill is to save money by getting this part of the economy better organized, so we're not going to be building buildings.

MASON: We're hearing reports of some glitches already in the system though, Peter. Are there problems?

GOSSELIN: With a change this big, there are always going to be problems. And the people setting this up in the Obama administration know that. So one of the things they've done, for example, is sign a contract with a company that can handle – I think they said – six million paper applications. Eventually, the bugs will get worked out and the thing will go entirely online or mostly online or through call centers. But right now, yeah, there are some serious growing pains. You're going to see some embarrassments.

GREEN: We are hearing that there are a lot of people that are not enthusiastic about this and may not sign up. So, if you don't, what are the penalties?

GOSSELIN: Well, the law provides for penalties that start very low – $95 per adult, half that for a kid, say a couple hundred dollars next year. And that rise to – for my hypothetical family of four – say $2,100 a year in 2016. But let's face facts. Both state and federal governments are scrambling to get this system up and running. The IRS has already said – and the IRS is managing most of the carrots and sticks for this system – they're going to go easy on penalties this coming year. I'd be surprised if anybody gets charged.

MASON: All right. Peter Gosselin, thanks so much.

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.