Friendly TV Reception for Obama's Health Care 'Fix'

President Obama's health care summit at the White House played into receptive television news hands Thursday night as NBC displayed “Fixing Health Care” on screen before reporter Chuck Todd appropriated the coach who inspired “win one for the Gipper” by touting how “the President's drive to pass health care got a Knute Rockne-like boost with a surprise appearance” by Senator Ted Kennedy, while ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson, who on Sunday had decried as a “national shame” America's lack of universal health care, effused: “I was blown away by President Obama's grasp of the subject, how he connected the dots, how he answered the questions without any script.”

CBS's Chip Reid corroborated Obama's point about soaring costs by citing a business where “in 2005, it cost $75,000 to cover about 25 employees. In 2008, it cost $148,000,” as if more government involvement to expand the number of people covered will lower costs. Reid also hailed Obama's fresh approach: “Instead of doing battle with insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals, and doctors, this time all those groups are in the room, most agreeing that now is the time for shared sacrifice.”

Unlike the reporters on ABC, CBS and NBC, FNC's Major Garrett, on Special Report with Bret Baier, caught an inaccurate claim made by Obama:
MAJOR GARRETT: In ten years, the healthcare tab could be 4.4 trillion dollars and 20 percent of GDP. And the President says there's a more immediate problem and it sounds alarming.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every 30seconds.

GARRETT: But the White House could not provide a statistic to back this up. They pointed to a 2005 Washington Post column written by Harvard scholar Elizabeth Warren. In it, she said, quote: "Every 30 seconds in the United States, someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.” Serious health problem, not as the President said, the ordinary cost of health care. But Warren's data comes from a survey of bankruptcies in 2001, and it says 2.2 million Americans are “affected by bankruptcy,” not filed for, but are “affected by.” What's more, a Treasury Department survey in 2000, found medical costs were quote, “not a major factor” unquote in bankruptcies filed that year. A senior White House economist could not back up the President's bankruptcy every 30 seconds assertion.

CHRISTINA ROMER, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: I'm going to have to check the numbers for you. I think the important thing is the idea is absolutely true.

GARRETT: High health care costs do contribute to bankruptcies, accounting for about a third filed in 2006, but one every 30 seconds, not even close.
My March 1 NewsBusters item, “ABC: 'National Shame' Will Propel Obama's Health Plan to Victory,” recounted:
"Ultimately," President Barack Obama will get his way on "universal" health coverage, because of "just one fact" ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson declared "I want to let everybody hear," and that is the "national shame" of how "we spend more than twice as much, per person, on health care in this country as the average of all other industrialized countries, yet we're the only one that doesn't have universal coverage."
From the Thursday, March 5 World News, after a story from Jake Tapper on the summit:
CHARLES GIBSON: Our medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson, was one of those attending today's White House health care forum. And Tim, we don't yet know what the President's plans for health care reform might be, but he certainly did have everyone in the same tent today, those who support reform and the critics.

DR. TIM JOHNSON: Absolutely. Every special interest group and every politician who has a stake in this process was there. I have to tell you, Charlie, I was blown away by President Obama's grasp of the subject, how he connected the dots, how he answered the questions without any script. And I was in a breakout session with the head of the private health insurance industry that you just saw, and she was singing a very different tune. She said in that session, we have to make change, we have to earn a place at the table, we have to cut our administrative costs. A totally, totally different attitude than 15 years ago during the ads [Harry and Louise] we just saw.

GIBSON: All right, so it is a beginning. Dr. Tim, thank you.
The CBS Evening News coverage:
KATIE COURIC: President Obama says you can't fix the economy without fixing the health care system. And today, he brought dozens of experts to the East Room to talk about his prescription for change. Here our chief White House correspondent, Chip Reid.

CHIP REID: President Obama today boldly predicted quick success where so many before him have failed.

BARACK OBAMA: Our goal will be to enact comprehensive health care reform by the end of this year.

REID: It's not just about expanding coverage to America's 46 million uninsured, he said. It's a matter of economic survival.

OBAMA: By a wide margin, the biggest threat to our nation's balance sheet is the skyrocketing cost of health care. It's not even close.

REID: In 2008, national spending on health care totaled  $2.4 trillion. Over the next decade, costs are expected to explode at about 6 percent a year with total spending soaring to $4.4 trillion in 2018.

OBAMA: If we don't tackle health care, then we're going to break the bank.

REID: Just ask Michael Anderson, owner of wagon work body shop in Northern Virginia.

REID TO ANDERSON: You treat this business like it's a family.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely.

REID: In 2005, it cost $75,000 to cover about 25 employees. In 2008, it cost $148,000. Anderson says he had no choice but to ask them to shoulder must have more of the cost.

REID TO ANDERSON: What was it like for you to have to go to these guys and say, "hey, I can't afford to cover you?"

ANDERSON: It was very, very painful.

REID: He's worried the policy makers at the White House just six miles away don't get it.

ANDERSON: They're kind of living in their ivory tower and I think they need to get out and speak to the common person.

REID: The President said that's precisely why he invited people representing all side of the health care debate, including ordinary Americans. He says he learned the lessons of the health care reform failure of 15 years ago when then First Lady Hillary Clinton worked behind doors and put together a plan full of mandates.

OBAMA: If somebody has insurance they like, they should be able to keep that insurance.

REID: Instead of doing battle with insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals, and doctors, this time all those groups are in the room, most agreeing that now is the time for shared sacrifice.

OBAMA: To Sir Edward Kennedy.

REID: Senator Ted Kennedy, who's has led the battle for health care reform for years and is himself battling brain cancer, received a royal welcome.

TED KENNEDY: This time we will not fail. Thank you very much.

REID: Even so, the President made clear that everyone is going to have to share the pain.

OBAMA: That's right, I'm talking to you liberal bleeding hearts out there. Don't think that we can solve this problem without tackling costs.

REID: Republicans gave the President a bit of a pass today. Their criticism was quite gentle, but here at the White House they don't expect that to continue.
With “Fixing Health Care” on screen, the NBC Nightly News story:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: President Obama focused today on overhauling the nation's health care system. He held a health care summit at the White House. He basically filled a room with experts on the subject. It was highlighted by a dramatic appearance today and NBC's Chuck Todd has that story at the White House for us tonight. Chuck, good evening.

CHUCK TODD: Good evening, Brian. Health care reform is something that has bedeviled Presidents on both sides of the aisle. And today, President Obama kicked off his effort to do it by holding that health care summit right here on the grounds today. President Obama began his effort to reform the massive and complicated health care system, tying it to the economic crisis.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's one of the greatest threats not just to the well-being of our families and the prosperity of our businesses, but to the very foundation of our economy. And that's the exploding costs of health care in America today.

TODD: Drawing on a lesson from Hillary Clinton's failed attempt to deal with health care in the early '90s, which was criticized for its secrecy, President Obama opened up the process, inviting doctors, patients, business and labor leaders, even live streaming discussion groups on a new Web site, healthreform.gov. The President emphasized he wants to get this done by the end of the year before 2010 campaign politics get in the way.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: In even-numbered years there's a bit of a silly season here in terms of getting things done. I think everyone would recognize that.

TODD: Every Democratic President since Harry Truman has vowed to tackle health care in a comprehensive way and somehow fallen short. Mr. Obama said he recognizes the challenge.

OBAMA: Nothing is harder in politics than doing something now that costs money, in order to gain benefits 20 years from now.

TODD: The President closed the health care summit by taking questions from the attendees, many of whom underscored the need for compromise.

To do this in a confident way-

We don't get everything we want-

All of us have to be willing to kind of give a little.

TODD: Even the head of the industry group that made the famous Harry and Louise TV ads-

TV AD: This was covered under our old plan.

TODD: -which torpedoed Clinton's reform effort, pledged cooperation.

We have to earn a seat at the table.

TODD: Finally, the President's drive to pass health care got a Knute Rockne-like boost with a surprise appearance.

OBAMA: To Sir Edward Kennedy.

TED KENNEDY: I'm looking forward to being a foot soldier in this undertaking. And this time, we will not fail. Thank you very much.
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