Viewers of the October 20
NBC Nightly News were greeted by Tom Brokaw, in his
introduction to that evening’s first story, telling them that
"American health care is in crisis, and it’s only getting worse
fast." In the ensuing report, correspondent Robert Hager said that
one of the problems in U.S. health care is "the number of Americans
with no health insurance is greater than ever — 41 million uninsured
now; that number growing by an additional one million a year."
On the previous night’s
CBS Evening News, correspondent John Roberts introduced viewers
to Rebecca Bryant, a working parent who cannot afford health
insurance for her children. "Help may be on the way," Roberts
declared. "The President and Congress, in the new budget, agreed to
set aside $24 billion to help states expand health care coverage for
Roberts ran a soundbite
from Steve Freedman of the Institute for Health Freedom praising the
new spending. "I think that we will have gained as a society
something even more important," Freedman said, "which is the will to
take care of each other, which is all that insurance is."
The problem of uninsured
Americans has been a constant theme in health care reporting this
But as with Hager and
Roberts, few reporters actually attempt to explain why the number of
uninsured Americans seems to grow by the year.
One reason: misguided
government regulation. "For more than 30 years, state legislatures
have passed laws driving the cost of health insurance higher,"
explain John C. Goodman and Merrill Matthews Jr. in a National
Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) report. "Known as mandated health
insurance benefit laws, they force insurers, employers and managed
care companies to cover — or at least offer — specific providers or
procedures not usually included in basic health care plans." They
note that "while there were only seven state-mandated benefits in
1965, there are nearly 1,000 today," including requirements for
"such nonmedical expenses as hairpieces, treatment for drug and
alcohol abuse, pastoral and marriage counseling."
Most importantly, these
mandates have produced some unintended consequences. Goodman and
Matthews cite a National Bureau of Economic Research survey which
"found that the cost of mandated benefits is usually borne by
employees in the form of reduced wages, reduced work hours or loss
Their own analysis,
prepared for NCPA by the actuarial firm Milliman & Robertson, finds
that the 12 most common mandates together "increase the cost of
insurance by as much as 30 percent." This causes some small
businesses to cancel their employees’ insurance policies, increasing
the nation’s pool of uninsured workers.
Goodman and Matthews point
out that the federal government has recently taken up this practice,
imposing "two mandates that affect health insurance policies
nationwide." These two "may not increase the costs of health
insurance significantly but, as in the states, once the door is open
every special interest will hurry through to besiege the
"When the legislators
succumb and the dust settles," they conclude, "health insurance will
cost more, employers and individuals will cancel more policies and
Congress will face a growing uninsured ‘crisis’ — a crisis largely
of its own making." Responsible reporters will include such
arguments in their stories about health care policy.
This article is
adapted from a Free Market Project Special Report, The Forgotten
Five: Important Economic Facts Missing in the News. To see the
full report, visit the MRC’s web site at www.mediaresearch.org. To
order a copy, call (703) 683-9733.