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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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January 1998


Networks Ignore Potent Arguments Against Clinton Changes to Health Program
Caught in the Medicare Snare

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 Gramm.

CBS reporter Scott Pelley also outlined Clinton’s proposal on the January 6 Evening News and included the same soundbite from Senator Gramm.

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 law."


Rich Noyes


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