ABC: Free Clinic ‘Vivid Demonstration of Health Care Crisis,’ ABC & NBC Invoke 3rd World

On Saturday, ABC’s World News Saturday and the NBC Nightly News each ran a story touting the high number of patients arriving at a free clinic in Los Angeles, operated by Remote Area Medical, as evidence of the need for health care reform. For the NBC Nightly News, it was the third such story on the facility of the week.

While ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson had run one story on Friday that focused on the generous work of the organization and its founder, Stan Brock, Saturday was the first time World News had touted the clinic as evidence of the need for reform, or compared America’s poor to the Third World, as stories on the CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News had already done previously. And on Saturday, ABC and NBC again failed to inform viewers that patients who arrived at the free clinic were not required to prove financial need to receive service, but were merely accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

On World News Saturday, ABC anchor Dan Harris set up the piece:

In Inglewood, California, tonight, a vivid demonstration of the health care crisis: A clinic that provides free health care has been inundated with patients. Almost 46 million people in this country do not have health insurance, but the problem is a lot bigger than that. Many people who do have insurance still cannot afford the care that they need.

ABC correspondent Mike von Fremd related that Remote Area Medical was founded to help Third World countries, but "is now helping people in America's second largest city," before showing a soundbite of Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog declaring that the scene at the clinic "is the poster child for everything that's wrong in American health care":

MIKE VON FREMD: This event was sponsored by Remote Access Medical, an organization started to serve Third World countries. It's now helping people in America's second largest city.

JAMIE COURT, CONSUMER WATCHDOG: This is the poster child for everything that's wrong in American health care. When you see working Americans, people with health insurance, coming here because their health insurance isn't good enough-

On Saturday’s NBC Nightly News, correspondent Miguel Almaguer related that the charity was founded to provide help to people in the Third World but is now serving "the world's richest country in the nation's second largest city," before showing a clip of the program’s founder, Brock, declaring that if the clinic operated for three months it would still not serve all those who would show up for free health care:

MIGUEL ALMAGUER: RAM, or Remote Area Medical, first began offering donated health care in Third World countries, but they are running this week's operation in the world's richest country in the nation's second largest city. If you were here all month, could you serve everyone that needed help?

STAN BROCK, REMOTE AREA MEDICAL: Oh, not a chance. No. We could be here three months, and we still wouldn't catch up on the demand for the service.

Almaguer also relayed the story of a woman who was seeing a doctor for the first time in 17 years, and played a clip of her citing her case as an example of why something should be done – presumably by the government – to make health care "affordable":

MIGUEL ALMAGUER: Like thousands of others, they're willing to wait days for a few free hours of care. Mora hasn't seen a doctor in 17 years.

MIKE WALSH: It's very scary, yeah.

MORA WALSH: Yeah, it is frightening. That's why I really feel that we need to do something in this country where it's affordable.

Below is are complete transcripts of the relevant stories from the Saturday, August 15, World News Saturday on ABC, and the same day's NBC Nightly News:

#From ABC's World News Saturday:

DAN HARRIS: In Inglewood, California, tonight, a vivid demonstration of the health care crisis: A clinic that provides free health care has been inundated with patients. Almost 46 million people in this country do not have health insurance, but the problem is a lot bigger than that. Many people who do have insurance still cannot afford the care that they need. Mike von Fremd is at that free clinic tonight. Mike, good evening.

MIKE VON FREMD: Good evening, Dan. Many of the people waiting in line for this free care are what the medical community calls under-insured. They have basic insurance, but it does not cover their most basic needs. Damone Jones, in the dental chair, works for the Edison Power Company. He has medical insurance, but could not afford the $5,000 root canal that he’s getting today for free.

DAMONE JONES, PATIENT: I have insurance, but it's so high, when I go to the dental, it’s outrageous prices, so I can't do it. I can't afford it.

VON FREMD: More than 1,000 volunteers – dentists, doctors and optometrists such as Jayme Chiu – have been working 14-hour days. They are shocked at the number of people desperate for care.

DR. JAYME CHIU, OPTOMETRIST: I'm exhausted. People are continuously coming. People really have very basic needs. And it's so basic that it's sad.

VON FREMD: This event was sponsored by Remote Access Medical, an organization started to serve Third World countries. It's now helping people in America's second largest city.

JAMIE COURT, CONSUMER WATCHDOG: This is the poster child for everything that's wrong in American health care. When you see working Americans, people with health insurance, coming here because their health insurance isn't good enough-

VON FREMD: The care that this free clinic is offering is estimated to be worth $200,000 a day. They expect to treat 8,000 desperate patients. Lindsey Huff has catastrophic health care. It does not cover her dental or vision needs, and she’s not had an eye exam or teeth cleaning in years.

LINDSEY HUFF, PATIENT: It's unbelievable. For me it's like winning the lottery. Seriously, I’m going from here over to dental. And all these little problems that I've been able to slip by and get by are going to be resolved.

VON FREMD: This has been a godsend to these people, but the clinic closes down on Tuesday. Mike von Fremd, ABC News, Inglewood, California.

#From the NBC Nightly News:

LESTER HOLT: Back now with more of a tough scene we've been watching unfold all week. Thousands of people – many without jobs or health insurance – are continuing to overwhelm volunteers at a free health care clinic in Los Angeles. Many needy people who were turned away earlier in the week were told to come back today. But what happened when they got there? NBC’s Miguel Almaguer joins us tonight from Los Angeles. Miguel, good evening.

MIGUEL ALMAGUER: Lester, good evening. The massive medical floor behind me is in full swing 12 hours a day, but the hundreds of volunteers are having a tough time keeping up with the thousands that continue to show up. Turned away earlier this week, they waited three days, even took three buses to get here. Mike and Mora Walsh can't find work, and they don't have health insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Do you have a primary physician?

MORA WALSH, PATIENT: No.

ALMAGUER: Like thousands of others, they're willing to wait days for a few free hours of care. Mora hasn't seen a doctor in 17 years.

MIKE WALSH: It's very scary, yeah.

MORA WALSH: Yeah, it is frightening. That's why I really feel that we need to do something in this country where it's affordable.

ALMAGUER: On Tuesday, the L.A. Forum became a mobile hospital. The bleachers are still packed with people, but center court has become center stage for medical procedures on the fly. Eight days of free health care, but by the third, wrist bands for the entire week were gone.

VITA MARTIN, PATIENT: Please. I deserve it.

ALMAGUER: Vita Martin has a job but no insurance. She found out she'll need more than one day of free care.

MARTIN: My blood pressure is so high, and I can't afford the meds that I need to make it lower. And I'm gonna die.

ALMAGUER: RAM, or Remote Area Medical, first began offering donated health care in Third World countries, but they are running this week's operation in the world's richest country in the nation’s second largest city. If you were here all month, could you serve everyone that needed help?

STAN BROCK, REMOTE AREA MEDICAL: Oh, not a chance. No. We could be here three months, and we still wouldn't catch up on the demand for the service.

ALMAGUER: Doctors know they can't help everyone.

DR. TERESA ROMERO, VOLUNTEER: You almost feel like you're not doing very much, you’re helpless.

ALMAGUER: But today, Mike and Mora Walsh made it through the doors.

MIKE WALSH: This is like a miracle.

MORA WALSH: This is. This is fantastic.

ALMAGUER: Thankful, even though this may not be all the care they need, but it's the only care they can get. The Walshes are among the 8,000 people that organizers say they will be able to help by Tuesday. Lester?

HOLT: Miguel Almaguer tonight. Thank you, Miguel.