CBS Hails 'Landmark' and 'Historic' Efforts to Expand Federal Control of Health

Wednesday's CBS Evening News trumpeted two liberal efforts to expand government power, leading by heralding “landmark legislation” to have the FDA regulate cigarettes followed by a story slanted in favor of, as reporter Thalia Assuras described it, an “historic expansion of health care coverage for children” of the “working poor.” Assuras, however, ignored such inconvenient facts as how a family of four with an income as high as $82,600 could get on the taxpayers' dole. Katie Couric had teased her top story: “Tonight, landmark legislation that supporters say could save millions of lives. Congress takes a step toward regulating everything about cigarettes for the first time ever.”

Next, Couric introduced a look at “getting medical coverage for the millions of American children who don't have it.” Assuras touted how a proposed expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) “boosts funding by $50 billion over five years, almost doubling the number of uninsured kids covered from the current six million children to about 11 million.” Sinking to the all too common media technique of exploiting a victim to push a liberal policy, Assuras cited “children like seven-year-old Pilar Edwards whose ear ache was so severe her mother brought her to this mobile medical clinic where she could get help even though Pilar is uninsured.” Assuras did pass along how critics contend “the legislation is a slippery slope toward a universal health care plan,” but against two negative soundbites, viewers heard from four advocates as Assuras concluded with a Senator's charge that “it would be a travesty if the President vetoed this legislation,” followed by these final words from Assuras: “With kids caught in the middle.” More like taxpayers.

The Heritage Foundation on Wednesday released a critique of the bill, “The House SCHIP Bill: Cutting Medicare, Undercutting Private Coverage, and Expanding Dependency.” An excerpt from the August 1 report by Cheryl Smith and Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D.:
The Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act (H.R. 3162), greatly expands dependency of millions of Americans on government health care, undermines private health plans, reduces choice for Medicare beneficiaries, and saddles taxpayers with a permanent new entitlement....

Crowds Out Private Health Coverage. The House bill undermines private insurance. Rather than designing subsidies in an innovative way to encourage private health insurance among families, the bill's sponsors displace it. Recent studies indicate that people with private insurance will likely drop eligible dependents in favor of welfare-style health coverage—a phenomenon economists refer to as "crowd out." According to CBO estimates, the House bill would move nearly 1.9 million people off private insurance and onto taxpayer-supported health care.

The legislation embodies a bias against private health coverage and in favor of government coverage. For example, in addition to regular SCHIP payments, the bill would offer "bonus payments" to states for SCHIP and Medicaid enrollment over specified "baseline" levels. As enrollment above designated levels increases, the bonuses get exponentially larger....

Expands Government Health Coverage to Middle-Income Adults and Fosters Greater Dependency on Government. The authors of the House bill repudiate the original intent of the program: SCHIP is no longer limited to low-income persons or to children. House sponsors achieve this expansion by simply redefining both "low-income" and "children." Under the bill, eligibility for government coverage would be extended to families with incomes up to 400 percent above the federal poverty level (FPL)—$82,600 for a family of four—hardly considered low-income by any reasonable standard. The House policy is transparently absurd: 89 percent of all children between 300 percent and 400 percent of the FPL are enrolled in private health insurance; 77 percent of all children between 200 percent and 300 percent of the FPL are enrolled in private health insurance; and 50 percent of all children between 100 percent and 200 percent of the FPL are enrolled in private health insurance....

Increases Government Spending. The CBO estimates that the House bill, if enacted, would effect a major change in direct government spending of more than $58 billion over 10 years....
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the August 1 CBS Evening News story on the efforts to expand federal payments for health insurance:
KATIE COURIC: And there's a battle brewing on Capitol Hill over another serious health issue: Getting medical coverage for the millions of American children who don't have it. The House is about to approve the biggest expansion of benefits ever. But, as we hear from Thalia Assuras, the fight is only just beginning.

DENNIS HASTERT, on the House floor: It's Hillarycare all over again.

THALIA ASSURAS: Fundamental differences on an historic expansion of health care coverage for children clashed today.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): There should be no debating the moral crisis of nine million children without health care.

ASSURAS: At issue, two competing bills to re-authorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, that will also substantially increase funding. SCHIP targets the working poor who earn too much for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance. The House plan boosts funding by $50 billion over five years, almost doubling the number of uninsured kids covered from the current six million children to about 11 million. The Senate bill proposes 35 billion dollars, adding about three million more children -- children like seven-year-old Pilar Edwards whose ear ache was so severe her mother brought her to this mobile medical clinic where she could get help even though Pilar is uninsured.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER: If I didn't have this place to bring her, my child would not be seen.

ASSURAS: Clinic director Doctor Rhonique Harris warns lack of health insurance is putting kids at risk.

Dr. RHONIQUE HARRIS, Children's Health Fund: For a lot of children who are uninsured, a lot of chronic diseases go farther than they need to go.

ASSURAS: President Bush and his allies contend the bills go too far. They say the legislation is a slippery slope toward a universal health care plan. And the President is threatening a veto.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'll resist Congress's attempt to federalize medicine.

ASSURAS: Mr. Bush has actually proposed a $5 billion funding increase, but that's his limit, and it won't expand coverage. So expect a showdown with the President.

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D-MI): I'm willing to make a fight on this issue if the President wants it.

SENATOR OLYMPIA SNOWE (R-ME): It would be a travesty if the President vetoed this legislation.

ASSURAS: With kids caught in the middle. Thalia Assuras, CBS News, Washington.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center