Dr. SteveB Writes on PBS Self-Censorship; Middleman; Stock Puppet
In this post DrSteveB covers a number of topics starting with an emerging scandal over PBS' latest health care documentary.
PBS FRONTLINE "Sick Around America"
After the relatively outstanding PBS Frontline documentary "Sick Around the World" which looked at how health care is funded and delivered in other countries, many of us were looking forward to hearing from T.R. Reid in his follow-up "Sick Around America."
To our surprise, Mr. Reid was missing. And to paraphrase and summarize Trudy Lieberman's piece on it over at the Columbia Journalism Review, the show was disjointed, confusing, misleading and kinda sucked. It turns out those two facts are probably connected.
In the earlier "Sick Around the World," T.R. Reid gave an accurate and entertaining portrayal of several single-payer-like health systems around the world. Many reform advocates hoped this new documentary would discuss single payer as an option for the United States, too, particularly given its popularity among the U.S. public.
The new show did discuss some of the problems with the American health care "system." However having hinted at the illness, it botched the discussion of the cure. It provided misleading or false explanations about the range of health reform options, completely botched the explanation of guarantee issue, was grossly misleading on mandates and the Massachusetts experience, and not only ignored single payer (we are used to that), but even ignored pubic option!
T.R. Reid was mentioned in the earlier publicity for the show, but chose to withdraw from the program and have his name taken off just a month or so ago. That has been publicly confirmed. Based on several private reports, it would appear that he wanted to include a fuller and coherent discussion of health reform options, what they were and why different interests supported them. He wanted to include not only public option but also single payer. When he saw how the final editing was going, he disagreed and chose to disassociate himself from it. No wonder it was so choppy and discombobulated.
As Don McCanne points out, throughout the program, many executives of the private insurance industry were featured, and they confirmed that these deficiencies were very real and needed to be addressed. That's good. What was outrageous is that they were in no way contrite, but instead they implied that they would provide the leadership to make sure that private insurance will continue to manage the financing for health care in America, beginning with an individual mandate for every American to buy their lousy products.
I can only speculate on the motives of PBS, Frontline, and the individual producers and director: It is likely that, after their expose "Sick Around the World," they caved when they came under pressure to confine their discussion to nice safe mainstream narratives, regardless of the facts. The allowable range was from Mandates to AHIP. Build on the current system of private for-profit health plans, push mandates which both the D.C. establishment and the insurance companies have endorsed. Ignore single payer. Don't even mention public option. Pathetic.
Meanwhile I do look forward to T.R. Reid's book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (earlier title was "We're #37" referring to the U.S.'s ranking in the World Health Organization 2000 World Health Report), due out in August.
Dr; Steve has sent us the following follow-up to this post in a communication today:
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Many viewers have written criticizing this report for not looking at solutions, in particular, a single payer system. Certainly, the topic is another important piece of any examination into the health care system and how it can be improved. And it would warrant a separate program of its own. We would like to point out that we did examine how the single payer system works in many European countries in our program last season, Sick Around the World. You can view this online.We believe that our report this week, Sick Around America, was equally of value in focusing on our current private health insurance system and showing how many Americans are only one or two events away from financial disaster or total ruin because they can't afford this insurance, or because it offers inadequate coverage, or because it suddenly can be rescinded by the insurer for alleged omissions or errors. We also felt it important in this report to look at another major problem with the private insurance system: America's for-profit medical system means that insurers have a fiscal duty to avoid risk and make profits for investors. Thus, insuring people who already have serious, chronic illnesses works against the interests of stockholders.
Moderator: Other developed countries guarantee coverage for everyone. We asked Karen Ignagni why it can't work here.
Karen Ignagni: Well, it would work if we did what other countries do, which is have a mandate that everybody participate. And if everybody is in, it's quite reasonable to ask our industry to do guarantee issue, to get everybody in. So, the answer to your question is we can, and the public here will have to agree to do what the public in other countries have done, which is a consensus that everybody should be in.
Moderator: That's what other developed countries do. They make insurers cover everyone, and they make all citizens buy insurance. And the poor are subsidized.
But the hard reality, as presented by Reid in Sick Around the World, is quite different than Ignagni and the moderator claim. Other countries do not require citizens buy health insurance from for-profit health insurance companies – the kind that Karen Ignagni represents. In some countries like Germany and Japan, citizens are required to buy health insurance, but from non-profit, heavily regulated insurance companies. And other countries, like the UK and Canada, don't require citizens to buy insurance. Instead, citizens are covered as a birthright – by a single government payer in Canada, or by a national health system in the UK. The producers of the Frontline piece had a point of view – they wanted to keep the for-profit health insurance companies in the game. TR Reid wants them out.
“We spent months shooting that film,” Reid explains. “I was the correspondent. We did our last interview on January 6. The producers went to Boston and made the documentary. About late February I saw it for the first time. And I told them I disagreed with it. They listened to me, but they didn't want to change it.”
Reid has a book coming out this summer titled The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care (Penguin Press, August 2009.)
“I said to them -- mandating for-profit insurance is not the lesson from other countries in the world,” Reid said. “I said I'm not going to be in a film that contradicts my previous film and my book. They said – I had to be in the film because I was under contract. I insisted that I couldn't be. And we parted ways.” “Doctors, hospitals, nurses, labs can all be for-profit,” Reid said. “But the payment system has to be non-profit. All the other countries have agreed on that. We are the only one that allows health insurance companies to make a profit. You can't allow a profit to be made on the basic package of health insurance.” “I don't think they deliberately got it wrong, but they got it wrong,” Reid said. Reid said that he now wants to make other documentaries, but not for Frontline.
“Frontline will never touch me a again – they are done with me,” Reid said.
Reid says that “it's perfectly reasonable for people to disagree about health policy.” “We disagreed, and we parted ways,” Reid says. It might be perfectly reasonable for people to disagree about health policy.
But it's not perfectly reasonable to mislead the American people on national television in the middle of a health care crises when Congress is shaping legislation that will mean life or death for the for-profit health insurance industry.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Now to some other topics covered in Dr. Steve's original post.
2. College Loan Program / Pell Grants Reform as a Model
The Obama folks have decided to get rid of the corrupting and wasteful middlemen of banks, and provide college student loan programs (principally the Pell Grants) directly via the government. Cutting out the no-value-added four billion dollar subsidy to the banks, will allow more students to get more dollars at lower cost. There have also been some kickback scandals, with college loan officers directing students to loaners that gave them money. That's what happens when what should be a public service gets artificially privatized and put into a for profit arena.
No doubt our education blogger have more to say about this subject. It is just that us single-payer advocates have noticed this seemingly real reform, and immediately see an analogy to health care reform. If only the Obama administration and congress would get rid of the similarly no-value added, cost's a lot, distorts the entire system middlemen of the for profit private insurance companies.
Unfortunately, the only middleman I did like lately got cancelled. sigh.
3. "Stock Puppetry"
Admittedly unrelated to health care, but I beg your indulgence for a little bit of humor:
Most of us are familiar with the term "sock puppet" from both its original literal meaning from Lambchop to Petfood.com and more importantly as the internet term for
...a false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person, like a ventriloquist manipulating a hand puppet.
..."sock-puppeting" is defined as "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company."
The key difference between a sockpuppet and a regular pseudonym is the pretense that the puppet is a third party who is not affiliated with the puppeteer.
I hereby officially introduce (in follow--up to my comment in a diary on Daily Kos yesterday) the term "Stock Puppet" (tm) to refer to the phony corporate journalism used to prop-up our financial system helping to create the pansy scheme economics we have been living through.
Examples include most of CNBC as delightfully exposed by The Daily Show lately. But also most of the business, economics and real estate reporting, as exposed in an ongoing basis for years now by the indispensible and indefatigable Dean Baker in his Beat the Press blog.
"Stock Puppetry" (tm) is when the journalist and outlet keep using the same "source" to promote the same line, propping up the same nonsense, despite both the source and the outlet having an a priori self interest and bias.
CNBC depends on advertising support from the same corporate interests that it is reporting on. It is owned by the same corporate interests it is reporting on. Its reporters are often from those same lines of work (e.g., traders). They then lob soft ball questions at the CEOs and report the lies as replies as news.
The reporters, outlet and interviewees are not independent. They all share an explicit agenda to drive the market up, not to report what is true. They are working in a priori collaboration, but pretending that one is a journalist, the other is a source, telling a balanced story, on an independent outlet. Hence... "Stock Puppetry"
As noted per links above, Dean Baker has been pointing out over and over again for years, that this is standard operating procedure, with a few exceptions, in most of the mainstream corporate press.
They would interview lobbyist or PR flacks, paid representatives, from the realtors or builders, making happy talk over the real estate market, all the way from the bubble being blown up and continued to do so even way after the bubble popped. They would go out of their way (especially the Washington Post in his coverage) to interview the same hacks and flacks, even after events had proven their prior statements false. And they go out their way to not interview truly independent experts with contrary negative opinions.
The same for the tireless self promoters of privatization, deregulation, self regulation, lack of oversight, tax cuts for the wealthy, "social security is in trouble", anti-union, anti-worker, "free trade" etc.
Of course, Dean Baker also gets health care reform right. (see there is a health care reform connection!).
Now that we have a new name for it, what are we going to do about it
Cross-posted on Daily Kos.