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.
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
"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
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.