Mar
12
2009

CNN: Single-Payer Is So '90s

Medical reporter warns against 'government-run health system'

In one of the few recent corporate media mentions of single-payer healthcare, CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen (3/5/09) explained why healthcare "reform" is more possible now than it was under President Bill Clinton:

Fifteen years ago you sometimes heard--actually you heard quite a bit--people saying: "Let's have a single-payer system like in Canada. The government is going to be the health insurer for everybody." You don't hear that as much as you used to. So more people are on the same page more than they once were.

Cohen is right that there were many people in favor of single-payer 15 years ago; as an Extra! article from that era (7-8/93) pointed out, New York Times polling since 1990 had "consistently found majorities--ranging from 54 percent to 66 percent--in favor of tax-financed national health insurance." The numbers today? A New York Times/CBS poll (1/11-15/09) found 59 percent in favor of government-provided national health insurance. In other words, contrary to Cohen's claim, people are on pretty much the same page today as they were 15 years ago.

Cohen's suggestion that it was those loud voices that stymied "reform" is likewise unsupportable; as Extra! reported back in 1993, corporate media were then solidly behind the Clinton administration's big insurer-friendly "managed competition" plan:

While the phrase "managed competition" appeared in 62 New York Times news stories in the six months following the 1992 election, "single-payer" appeared in only five news stories during that period--never in more than a single-sentence mention.

Establishment journalists thus silenced those single-payer voices in 1993, just as Cohen and her contemporaries silence single-payer advocates today, as a new FAIR study recently revealed (3/6/09).

Earlier (CNN Newsroom, 2/26/09), Cohen had argued that "if in time, Americans start to think what President Obama is proposing is some kind of government-run health system--a la Canada, a la England--he will get resistance in the same way that Hillary Clinton got resistance when she tried to do tried to do this in the '90s."

As noted above, a government-financed national health insurance program is broadly popular in opinion polls, so it's unclear why Obama would get "resistance" if "Americans start to think" he's proposing such a plan. (If insurance companies start to think that, on the other hand, then they're certainly likely to create resistance.)

And Hillary Clinton in 1993 was certainly not proposing a government-financed system like Canada's, let alone a government-run system like Britain's; her "managed competition" plan was explicitly designed to preserve a central role for private insurance companies. It's hard to square the suggestion that Clinton was proposing a government-based healthcare system with Cohen's later acknowledgment that single-payer advocates were not "on the same page."

CNN plays a significant role in the healthcare debate. The channel's other top medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, was Obama's first choice to be surgeon general, and was one of the leading critics attacking Michael Moore's pro-single-payer documentary Sicko (FAIR Action Alert, 7/11/07). Cohen should use her prominent journalistic role in the healthcare reform debate to broaden and clarify the debate, rather than confuse and narrow it.

ACTION: Please write to Elizabeth Cohen and ask her to include the single-payer proposal as an option in the healthcare reform debate with continuing popular support.

CONTACT:

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN

404-827-1500

elizabeth.cohen@turner.com

You can post copies of your letters to the Washington Post on FAIR's blog here. Please remember that letters that maintain a civil tone are most effective.