ABC Exploits Kids and Crying Mom to Push Higher Federal Health Spending

CBS, and especially ABC, on Thursday night portrayed the debate over increasing federal spending on health insurance for children as an effort to help kids only the cold-hearted could oppose, a framing aided by scenes of cute toddlers, a crying mother and little emphasis on how those well above poverty would qualify. ABC anchor Charles Gibson overlooked the proposed expansion, to those in families who have or can afford private insurance, as he cited “a bill providing health insurance to millions of kids whose parents cannot afford private coverage.”

Reporter Martha Raddatz found a poor mother to exploit, beginning her story: “Susan Dick depends on the so-called SCHIP [State Children's Health Insurance Program] program for her two sons, both of whom have asthma. The family income is too low for private insurance, too high for Medicaid.” Raddatz briefly noted Bush's fear many would move from private insurance to the government program and then, leading into a soundbite from liberal Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, she hailed how “the expansion has bipartisan support across the country, including from many Republicans...” Capping her story, Raddatz featured a crying mother who sympathetically fretted: “If my boys don't have health insurance, it makes it very hard when you're a parent to know that they're sick and you have to get them to the doctor.” Raddatz coldly concluded: “But the President made it very clear today, Charlie, he will veto this bill in its present form.” CBS anchor Katie Couric also painted Bush as opposed to helping kids: “President Bush opened a news conference today by attacking a proposed expansion of a health care program for low-income children.”

Unlike Raddatz, Jim Axelrod at least noted how “Bush wants a $5 billion increase in SCHIP funding over five years, 20 percent more than now” while “Congress wants to boost it $35 billion.” In stark contrast to CBS's much more slanted August 1 story on SCHIP, Axelrod explained how Bush “says Democrats want to make millions more eligible who aren't poor,” but Axelrod also brought out the usual “even Republicans” argument to paint conservatives as out of sync: “Even Republicans like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley are calling on President Bush to compromise.”

An August 1 NewsBusters posting, “CBS Hails 'Landmark' and 'Historic' Efforts to Expand Federal Control of Health,” recounted CBS's earlier use of kids to push for a major hike in federal spending and control:
The 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...

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.
That posting included an excerpt from a Heritage Foundation report which noted:
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...
On Wednesday, Heritage released a new analysis, “SCHIP and 'Crowd-Out': The High Cost of Expanding Eligibility,” in which Paul L. Winfree and Greg D'Angelo reported:
The Heritage Foundation conducted an econometric analysis of the likely crowd out associated with the House and Senate bills. This analysis was based on a modified and extended version of the methodology developed by MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, a leading expert on the crowd-out effect. This analysis found that Congress's expansion proposals for SCHIP could cover as many as 2.4 million newly eligible children, but because of crowd out, the ranks of the uninsured would decrease by only 1 million. This is because, for every 100 newly eligible children in families with incomes between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), 54 to 60 children would lose the private coverage that they have today.
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide transcripts of the September 20 ABC and CBS stories:

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: In Washington, a major battle has erupted between President Bush and Democrats over health care for children. At issue is a bill providing health insurance to millions of kids whose parents cannot afford private coverage. Democrats and some Republicans propose a program far more extensive than the President says he'll accept. Here's ABC's Martha Raddatz.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Susan Dick depends on the so-called SCHIP program for her two sons, both of whom have asthma. The family income is too low for private insurance, too high for Medicaid.

SUSAN DICK, Mother: We're an every-day middle American family that needs this coverage.

RADDATZ: Since the program was enacted in 1997, the number of children with health insurance has increased by 25 percent. The Senate and House bill calls for an additional $35 billion over the next five years. That would allow 4 million additional children to be covered. The White House says that's too expensive. The President said today that expanding the program would encourage more people to get on government health care instead of private insurance.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Instead of expanding SCHIP beyond its original purpose, we should return it to its original focus. And that is helping poor children, those who are most in need.

RADDATZ: The expansion has bipartisan support across the country, including from many Republicans who criticize the President's threat to veto the legislation.

GOVERNOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): We all sit there and say, "Where did that come from?" I mean, you can't go and wipe out the deficit on the backs of the children. I mean, you can't.

RADDATZ: Governor Schwarzenegger and others say more money is needed for the SCHIP program because the rising cost of health care has caused more and more families to need exactly the kind of help this program provides.

DICK, CRYING: If my boys don't have health insurance, it makes it very hard when you're a parent to know that they're sick and you have to get them to the doctor.

RADDATZ: But the President made it very clear today, Charlie, he will veto this bill in its present form.

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: President Bush opened a news conference today by attacking a proposed expansion of a health care program for low-income children. He promised to veto Democratic legislation that would sharply increase the number of children who would qualify. Jim Axelrod has more.

CHRISTINE BRASSI, MOTHER: 5:30 this morning, she woke up with a fever.

JIM AXELROD: Christine Brassi is taking her baby daughter to a doctor at Harlem's Milbank Health Center in New York. The 10-month-old is one of more than six million poor kids nationwide covered by the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. With the program set to expire in 10 days, President Bush wants a $5 billion increase in SCHIP funding over five years, 20 percent more than now. But Congress wants to boost it $35 billion to cover several million more kids.

GEORGE W. BUSH AT PRESS CONFERENCE: I believe this is a step toward federalization of health care. I know that their proposal is beyond the scope of the program. And that's why I'm going to veto the bill.

AXELROD: At its root, this is a philosophical dispute. The President says Democrats want to make millions more eligible who aren't poor.

BUSH: Members of Congress are putting health coverage for poor children at risk so they can score political points in Washington.

HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: The President is alone in his opposition to the legislation.

AXELROD: Democrats counter the President is freezing out struggling Americans ineligible for Medicaid but who can't afford to buy insurance. So far, the Senate has passed a version by a veto-proof majority, but the House has not. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows the President's veto threat could easily become reality.

PELOSI: The President is saying I forbid 10 million children in America to have health care.

AXELROD: Even Republicans like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley are calling on President Bush to compromise. But the President has another reason to play tough, letting anyone who thinks he's a lame duck know he's still here slugging. Jim Axelrod, CBS News, the White House.
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