CBS: Bay State Health Insurance Mandate and State Subsidy Don't Go Far Enough

A year and a half after the CBS Evening News celebrated the then-upcoming Massachusetts mandate requiring everyone to buy health insurance and the state subsidizing it for those with lower incomes -- “Imagine this: Virtually everyone guaranteed health insurance coverage. It's happening in one state, and it could be a model for the rest” -- Friday's newscast found it has come up short. Anchor Katie Couric teased the upcoming story on how the law didn't go far enough in providing subsidies, “Universal health insurance: It is supposed to mean everyone is covered. But in the only state that has it, hundreds of thousands are not. That story next.” Introducing the subsequent story, Couric touted how former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney “signed a landmark law mandating universal health insurance, the only state so far to do so. So you would think everyone in Massachusetts is now covered. But it is not working out that way.”

Reporter Wyatt Andrews highlighted how state-subsidized coverage saved one man's life, trumpeting that as “the state's achievement. Out of 400,000 uninsured residents last year, around 170,000 now have insurance.” But, he continued, “the gap that remains is huge. It includes some 130,000 young adults, most of them middle income men who have to pay their own premiums. They either don't want insurance or can't afford it.” For expert advocacy, Andrews turned to the head of a liberal group, Health Care for All: “Health care advocate John McDonough praises the state for a good start but says that gap in affordability has to be filled.”

Back on April 5, 2006, as recounted in a NewsBusters posting, CBS Evening News anchor Russ Mitchell celebrated the government mandate, as he led the newscast:
“Good evening. I'm Russ Mitchell. Imagine this: Virtually everyone guaranteed health insurance coverage. It's happening in one state, and it could be a model for the rest. So we'll begin there tonight.”

Mitchell, with "Massachusetts" next to one side of his head and "Insuring Everyone" on the other side, led: "Health care costs are rising by the day, and more than 45 million people in this country have no insurance to cover it. Now, one state is doing what no other state or the federal government has been able to do: Provide near-universal health coverage. The Massachusetts legislature approved it with overwhelming bipartisan support. And it could become a model for the rest of the country. Here's Trish Regan."

Trish Regan: "President Clinton promised it but did not deliver, states have wrestled with it unsuccessfully for decades, and now Massachusetts has apparently done it. It's about to become the first in the nation to provide nearly universal health coverage. Under a bill approved by the legislature, the state will require every citizen to be insured. Governor Mitt Romney pushed for the program."...
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the August 24 CBS Evening News story:
KATIE COURIC: In the presidential campaign, Republican Mitt Romney was in Florida today announcing his plan for getting more Americans covered by health insurance. An estimated 45 million Americans have no insurance. Romney would give them tax cuts to help them buy it. When he was Governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed a landmark law mandating universal health insurance, the only state so far to do so. So you would think everyone in Massachusetts is now covered. But it is not working out that way, as Wyatt Andrews reports in "Eye on Your Money."

WYATT ANDREWS: When the Massachusetts experiment with universal health care began this year, one thing it did was save Henry Murphy's life. Last year, after developing heart trouble, he lost his job and then his insurance.

HENRY MURPHY, Massachusetts Resident: They threw me to the wolves, and I thought that was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1, in ad: We've got it.

VOICE OF MALE NARRATOR, in ad: Health insurance: Massachusetts residents are now required to have it.

ANDREWS: But now, under the new law, everyone must have health insurance. And Henry qualified for state subsidized coverage just in time. Do I have it right, Henry may have been on the street, essentially, uninsurable without the commonwealth plan?

Dr. SOMAVA STOUT, Cambridge Health Alliance: Absolutely. Absolutely. And not only that, he might not be here anymore.

ANDREWS: This is the state's achievement. Out of 400,000 uninsured residents last year, around 170,000 now have insurance. But the gap that remains is huge. It includes some 130,000 young adults, most of them middle income men who have to pay their own premiums. They either don't want insurance or can't afford it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You have health insurance?

ANDREWS: That's why before every Red Sox game, beside the hot dogs and hamburgers, the state is pitching health care. They're aiming the pitch in person and up on the Fenway big screen at young men. It's a tough sell because the cheapest family plan available with drug coverage is $662 a month. When we talked to contractor Roger Thompson, there was no way.

ROGER THOMPSON, Massachusetts Resident: I have no choice. It would be like another mortgage payment for my family, and I can't afford that.

JOHN MCDONOUGH, HEALTH CARE FOR ALL: It's a tough sell because it's a group of people who've never purchased insurance on their own.

ANDREWS: Health care advocate John McDonough praises the state for a good start but says that gap in affordability has to be filled.

MCDONOUGH: And it's going to be a challenge for us to make sure that policy evolves to provide an affordable option for those folks.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: There's a new health insurance law and-

ANDREWS: What's truly new about this bold experiment is that it's not voluntary. Everyone has to buy health insurance or face a penalty on their taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Your boss is going to help you get coverage?

ANDREWS: And what they already know is that universal health in Massachusetts won't quite be universal for now. It's as if the game has started, but most of the fans haven't arrived. Wyatt Andrews, CBS News, Boston.
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