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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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March 1997


Chicago Hope Lobbies for Health Care Reform
Hoping For Socialized Medicine

Three years ago, in February 1994, MediaNomics reported that calls for health care reform were being woven into the plots of network prime time fare.

Health care reform was a hot political topic and Hollywood couldn't pass up the opportunity to use shows as soap boxes to call for bigger government. On an episode of Roc, for instance, a nurse launched into a tirade about inadequate medical care: "I work in a hospital so I know how awful the health care system in our country is. Even if you can afford a clinic, as much as they want to, they can't always provide for adequate service." <M>On Hearts Afire, a Senate aide pushed her boss toward socialized medicine: "If we can be the first to put a man on the moon, if we can be first in the Olympics, why can't we be first to provide decent health care for hard-working Americans?" Since the Clinton health plan died in late 1994, though, the networks stopped their health care lobbying campaign.

Until recently.

With renewed Democratic efforts to increase the federal presence in the health care market, CBS's Chicago Hope added its voice to the call for federally funded health care for children, or "KidCare." On the February 17 episode, Tommy Wilmette, a hospital admnistrator played by Ron Silver, goes to Washington with his ex-wife Kate to lobby for KidCare. The scene in which Wilmette testifies before a fictional committee chaired by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy is touching, moving -- and inaccurate.

Senator Kennedy, who appeared on the condition that he be allowed to write his own lines, opened the scene by claiming that "we have ten million children in the United States that have no health care coverage whatsoever. These are the sons and daughters of working families -- men and women who work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year." According to Kennedy, the only question was: "Do we have the political will to provide health insurance to cover those ten million Americans?"

"These are children that rarely see a primary health care doctor, sons and daughters of working families that have asthma and rarely see a primary care doctor, that have ear infections and rarely see a doctor, where the emergency room is their family doctor," Kennedy continued.

When it's Wilmette's turn to speak, he opts for grandstanding: "We need to disconnect profit from care. There should be no profit from the pain and misfortune of others. No profit from sick children. No profit from the dying. Health care is a right, just like education is, just like equal justice under law. The marketplace may be efficient, but it is amoral. The system is sick, and it is killing us."

But as the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner and Naomi Lopez pointed out in last month's Media-Nomics, three million of the ten million children counted by Senator Kennedy are eligible for Medicaid, but aren't enrolled. As many as 1.5 million more live in households with incomes over $40,000 per year. Others are already cared for in numerous federal, state, and local government programs. Needless to say, Chicago Hope didn't invite a conservative senator on the show to provide these statistics or to argue that simply changing the tax treatment of health care would expand the number of insured parents and children.

Nuance and depth aren't staples of prime time fare. Moral exhibitionism is, at least on Chicago Hope.


Rich Noyes


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