Issue July 29, 2009

Overdose

This country needs an enema.

As the “debate” over how to reform the morally and fiscally bankrupt health care system continues, people seem to be falling further away from understanding and ever-faster toward the tar pit of ideology.

And predictably, mainstream media isn’t doing much to close the gap.

The Courier-Journal published 18 stories about health care from Friday to Tuesday. The debate over reform comprised 25 percent of mainstream media’s output last week, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That’s the most coverage health care has gotten in mainstream media since PEJ began this kind of monitoring in 2007. In fact, by the PEJ count, health care coverage registered less than 1 percent of the overall coverage in American mainstream media in 2007 and 2008.

Most of the coverage last week came from either cable news or radio stations, both dominated by the talk format, which allows for most anyone with a decent boom in his voice to spout pseudo-philosophical nonsense and sell vacuum cleaners to an intellectually lazy public. That suggests health care reportage has moved away from nuts and bolts and toward philosophical, political and ideological positions.

The storyline that was “overwhelmingly dominant,” according to PEJ: The legislative “fight” over reform.

I’m sure you’ve already sensed this, but I’ll say it anyway: Mainstream media, and particularly “news” talk shows, finally picked up what will come to be defined as America’s greatest domestic failure because somebody was fighting about it.

As members of Congress continue to issue excuses for why they cannot stuff their own shit and do something in the name of the country writ-large for once, President Obama is state-hopping and trying to sell The People on his plan. It includes the so-called public option, a government-run program a la Medicare that would offer low-cost basic coverage and, theoretically, bring enough competition into the insurance market to draw down premium costs from private insurers, which are currently insane.

Naturally, the only people who really want this — aside from a few handfuls of legislators, the president and probably a decent chunk of his administration — are part of the aforementioned The People, a feckless, fickle and relatively disorganized special interest group with around 300 million members. Some of them are among the 50 million Americans with zero health insurance right now. They have no political power, and might as well be the working poor for all your United States Congress seems to care. The People are not the ones sitting in the offices of legislators, holding meetings about how not to get jackhammered in the fine print. Rather, they are the ones paying the salaries of those holders of important meetings.

This is not hyperbole. On July 6, The Washington Post reported that the behemoths of the health care industry — insurers, various medical groups and hospitals — hired more than 350 Washington insiders to lobby Congress this time around. Nearly half of them worked in key committees or for legislators now at the forefront of the debate. Ten others are former members of Congress.

While heavily invested parties are lining up to keep their troughs full, mainstream media are keeping our eyes off the ball, reminding us — via uncorrected disinformation disseminated by ideologues and insurance companies — that there really are many sides to this issue.

It’s simpler than that. Entrenched interests want to keep choices as limited as possible, so that we must continue paying outrageously high premiums, all the while having the “freedom” to choose usurped. If you are a health insurance consumer, you are a captive audience. If you are not, well, the system is rigged against that, too.

Take two local examples.

First, the spat between Anthem and Norton has stripped thousands of people of the choice they thought they’d paid for. Norton pulled out of the Anthem network after the insurer wouldn’t pay it more money, thus cutting off untold numbers of patients.

Meanwhile, Humana has decided to drop doctors it says are ordering too many costly tests and procedures, disenfranchising the patients of those doctors. The Louisville-based insurer says it’s trying to keep costs down in the wake of the national debate, which it also says is about cost, not basic humanity or longevity.

To its credit, The Courier-Journal has done a solid job covering both.

To their shame, private insurers have done an atrocious job covering many.