When President Clinton proposed a massive enlargement of the
financially ailing Medicare program, most network reporters were
somewhat skeptical. But though they mentioned drawbacks to Clinton’s
proposal to extend Medicare benefits to some as young as 55, they
didn’t mention the most serious drawbacks, and they didn’t mention
other competing reform ideas.
NBC’s Tom Brokaw began the January 6 Nightly News story on
Clinton’s proposals by calling Medicare "the health care program
that has been a godsend to the elderly in this country, even with
all its financial difficulties. Tonight, the President wants to
dramatically expand its coverage to millions more."
Correspondent David Bloom then introduced the obligatory tearful
anecdote. He told viewers the program would help "people like
64-year-old Ruth Cain. Complications from her pacemaker cost her
$25,000. Now she’s hoping and praying she doesn’t get sicker before
she turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare." But Bloom also pointed
out that "Republicans argued today that with Medicare projected to
go bankrupt in about a decade, it makes no sense to add
beneficiaries" and ran a soundbite from Republican Senator Phil
CBS reporter Scott Pelley also outlined Clinton’s proposal on the
January 6 Evening News and included the same soundbite from
The most skeptical report of the night was filed by ABC’s John
Donvan on World News Tonight. "Mr. Clinton made it sound like
something for nothing," Donvan reported. "At no cost to taxpayers, a
way to bring hundreds of thousands of uninsured Americans into the
Medicare system." Donvan noted, though, that "there are catches."
For one, people under 65 would have to buy into the program and many
cannot afford it, and "another catch, Medicare is projected to go
broke unless it’s scaled back."
Concluded Donvan: "White House aides insist this proposal, while
enlarging Medicare, would not increase its cost. That would be a
rare thing, indeed, for a government program."
But even Donvan didn’t mention some of the most objectionable
consequences of this Medicare plan, nor point out to viewers that
there are other proposals to reform health care. For example:
n None of the network reporters mentioned that the changes would
not just mean more beneficiaries, but fewer workers paying into the
program, as well as Social Security.
"The Clinton proposal is a step backward," write John C. Goodman
and Merrill Matthews Jr. in The Wall Street Journal. "One of
the reasons many near-retirees remain in the labor market is to take
advantage of employer-provided health insurance. The Clinton
proposal would encourage early retirement by removing this
incentive." They note that "earlier retirement, in turn would mean
fewer people paying into the Medicare and Social Security system and
more people drawing benefits."
n No reporter pointed out that the changes would encourage
employers to drop insurance plans. According to Goodman and
Matthews, "Another provision of Mr. Clinton’s proposal would mandate
that retirees over 55 who were promised then denied post-retirement
health insurance be allowed to buy in to the employer’s health plan.
Since this provision would penalize companies with retiree health
insurance plans, some employers would help their retirees qualify
for Medicare instead of offering such plans."
n And no reporter told viewers of other ideas for reform. "Rather
than substitute government insurance for employer provided
insurance, a better solution is to make it easier for people to
purchase coverage on their own," Goodman and Matthews contend.
"Current tax law excludes employer premiums from employees’
taxable income, a subsidy that can reduce the cost of health
insurance by 30 percent or more for an average family. Individuals
who purchase their own insurance should get similar relief under tax