Only One Side On Medicare
by L. Brent Bozell III
July 8, 1999
As the hourglass of the Clinton presidency empties toward an end, the networks are trying to wrap up this party the way they began: promoting more socialized medicine. The big network anchors and reporters have unilaterally decided that this very long scandal phase of the Clinton years is over, and now we must march on to the exciting thought of growing the government, to speak in their vernacular.
Bill Clinton has announced triumphantly that the feds somehow have found an additional trillion dollars in federal surpluses coming out our ears, so it is our patriotic duty to spend this taxpayer bounty on Medicare beneficiaries. Clinton proposes we start by subsidizing prescriptions. Okay, how much of this surplus would be spent? CBS reporters surprisingly warned several times it would be "expensive." But they were the exception. For most of the press, the mantra was cost, schmost, we just gotta have it.
On NBC's "Today," co-host Katie Couric was unequivocal in her endorsement: "It sounds like a no-brainer. Seniors spend billions of dollars on prescription drugs every year, often putting them in terrible financial situations. So what's wrong with this plan?"
Later on the same show, NBC reporter Lisa Myers warned of the savage drug market: "Seniors without the bargaining muscle also must deal with rising overall drug prices, up 68 percent in the last eight years. Now the average prescription costs $37, the average brand name drug almost $52. Pharmacist Jack Collins says he sees a serious, perhaps deadly toll on elderly customers."
Call it Medi-scare Redux: if you don't do what liberals want, people will die!
Myers suggested a solution to this epidemic of drug-deficient retirees: "The President's plan, however, will try to change that and require that seniors be given a discount of about ten percent on all drug purchases. O'Laughlin [a Medicare beneficiary who led the story] says every little bit helps and hopes Medicare will finally begin to meet her changing needs, so that she can both stay well and afford to live well." So now we have a new entitlement: the right not to be burdened by large prescription bills.
But that evening on ABC's "World News Tonight," reporter John Cochran suggested Bill Clinton's plan was actually too little. "For many older people the Clinton plan is welcomed, but it would hardly solve the problems of those who have huge drug bills every month. That would include the Mitchells, who live in Florida," he declared, introducing his sympathetic characters. "Sixty-eight-year-old Willie has kidney problems, heart problems, and diabetes. The Mitchells' combined income each month from Social Security is only $1,200. Last month Willie's drug bill alone was more than $1,000. To make it through each month he cuts back on food and on medications, cutting his pills into quarters."
Cochran continued to hammer home the flaws in Clinton's underfinanced plan: "Under the Clinton plan Willie would only get $83 a month, not enough and he is skeptical Washington politicians will do even that much." Cochran concluded with his selected victim's best pitch: "His doctor urged him to go to Mexico, where drugs are cheaper. But as a war veteran who paid taxes all his life, Willie can't understand why his own government can't help more."
With that kind of emotional heart-tugging, how could you oppose the proposed new spending?
But Couric, Cochran, Myers, and Co. aren't bothering to look at some facts. James Frogue of the Heritage Foundation found a very different picture. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average senior spent $637 out of pocket on prescription and non-prescription drugs in 1997. This contrasts with the $1,193 that same senior spent on "dining out." The National Academy of Social Insurance, in a recent study, found that the median amount spent by seniors out of pocket on drugs is $200, meaning that 50 percent of America's seniors spend less than $200 annually on drugs. That also means victims like Willie Mitchell, with his monthly $1000 drug bill, is utterly atypical of seniors, and focusing on him is competely typical for panicked network reporters.
Frogue also notes that Clinton would increase the burden on the administrators of Medicare, the Health Care Financing Administration. The need for some cost control would then lead to limiting the number of drugs available to recipients. While HCFA is already struggling with 800 million annual claims from Medicare Part A and B, "the additional administrative load involved in overseeing Medicare Part D (prescription drugs), with potentially over a billion claims, would be an administrative nightmare."
But the networks don't really care about the gory administrative details, as long as they've riveted their audiences with scary stories that sell the false security of statism, and the resulting electoral success of their liberal Democrat friends.
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