Nets Provide Friendly Reception for Obama’s Plan and Why It’s Needed

President Obama’s health plan announced Monday is little more than the Senate bill with a new tax and federal price control regime, but ABC’s Diane Sawyer touted how “Obama today officially put forward his plan” and CBS’s Katie Couric hailed “a plan of his own,” though she pointed out “it includes no public option.” (In contrast, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie observed: “This new plan of the President's looks a lot like the old plan, just repackaged.”)

All three evening newscasts employed terminology congenial to Obama’s wish to interfere in the marketplace by trumpeting how Obama would “block insurance companies from unreasonable rate increases” while CBS and NBC both advanced Obama’s effort to disparage insurance companies by showcasing sympathetic victims of a health insurance rate hike – pregnant women.

Sawyer delivered a very innocuous summary: “It would give the government new power to control big hikes in insurance premiums, it would give a maximum of nearly $8,500 to a family of four to help them buy insurance and it would prevent insurers from denying coverage to anyone who's already sick or at risk of illness.”

On CBS, Couric segued to “a lot of anger about soaring insurance premiums” and reporter Ben Tracy found a woman “seven months pregnant” upset by a 35 percent hike. She scolded: “You have a right to make money but not at the expense of abusing other people.” NBC’s Guthrie noted “the White House has seized on a California company's decision to jack up rates 39 percent. This Redondo Beach mother was stunned.” Viewers then heard from the woman, near tears: “Do I go without insurance? Does my daughter go without insurance? What are we supposed to do?”

Coverage from Monday night, February 22, collated with help from the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth:

ABC’s World News:

DIANE SAWYER: Now what could be the showdown in health care reform. The televised meeting of Republicans and Democrats is on Thursday and President Obama today officially put forward his plan. It would give the government new power to control big hikes in insurance premiums, it would give a maximum of nearly $8,500 to a family of four to help them buy insurance and it would prevent insurers from denying coverage to anyone who's already sick or at risk of illness.

So we turn now to the White House correspondent Jake Tapper because the President challenged Republicans to meet him with their own concrete plans. What's their reaction today, Jake?

JAKE TAPPER: Well, they're planning to show up on Thursday with a not very bi-partisan spirit. They're going to talk about how their health care approach should be small and incremental and they're going to talk about why the Democratic plan should be scrapped, how the American people do not want it. And that's the plan that President Obama posted on whitehouse.gov today.

SAWYER: But if each side dug in, what does the White House plan to do after Thursday?

TAPPER: Well, they're planning for next week already. The way that they've posted this plan, the way that they have this vehicle ready is to have it passed without Republican support. It's the Senate bill and some fixes to the Senate bill and that's how they're going to have it passed, by putting it through the House and Senate bill and then having this fix pass the Senate through what is called reconciliation rules. That requires only 51 votes, that's very controversial. And then it will go to the House if they have votes.

SAWYER: So they're pushing ahead?

TAPPER: They're absolutely pushing ahead. They have strategy for doing this without Republican votes if Thursday does not result in the legislative kumbaya that there probably will not be.


CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: Good evening, everyone. For a year, President Obama let Congress take the lead in reforming health care, and it fell apart. So today, for the first time, the President put out a plan of his own. The White House says it's the, quote, “opening bid” going into Thursday's health care summit. But Republicans are already rejecting it. The Obama plan would extend coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans, mostly through subsidies. The price tag: $950 billion over 10 years. It includes no public option. Chip Reid is at the White House tonight, and, Chip, I know this plan is $200 billion more than the existing Senate version, and it will not be an easy sell.

CHIP REID: It will not, Katie. Now, the White House claims they're going to pay for that $200 billion mostly with increases in taxes on the wealthy. But it will be a tough sell, and that's not the only bit hurdle in the President's new plan. He's also proposing a brand new federal board called the Health Insurance Rate Authority, and he wants to give the federal government the power to block insurance companies from unreasonable rate increases. Now, there is some politics afoot here. The President would love to go to that big health care summit on Thursday and say, "Republicans, you object to this new federal board? Well, you're defending the insurance companies, I'm protecting the average American."

COURIC: And, Chip, why has the President waited until now to come out with this? I mean, is this a sign of how important health care reform is to him?

REID: Exactly right, Katie. For people who haven't been paying attention, he is still very determined to get this through Congress, and he's going to do everything he can. And with the House and Senate gridlocked, he decided he had to take the lead.

COURIC: All right. Chip Reid, Chip, thanks very much.

They're angry about unemployment, but there is also a lot of anger about soaring insurance premiums. Ben Tracy in Los Angeles has more tonight about insurance sticker shock.

BEN TRACY: In Los Angeles, skyrocketing health care costs have a lot of people feeling sick.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Every month, my pocket gets picked.

TRACY: Anthem Blue Cross, California's largest private health insurer, plans to raise rates on 700,000 households in the state. As of May 1, most monthly premiums would jump 25 percent, some as much as 39 percent. Ilene Lisak is seven months pregnant, but she wasn't expecting this letter from Anthem raising her premium from $525 to $708 per month – a 35 percent hike.

ILENE LISAK: You have a right to make money but not at the expense of abusing other people.

TRACY: Nationwide, major insurance companies want to raise premiums by more than 20 percent in Oregon, Maine, and Connecticut, and a whopping 56 percent in Michigan. President Obama wants the government to be able to block large premium increases. Yet insurance companies say they have to charge more because fewer people are paying premiums after losing their jobs, and medical costs keep going up.

BRAD FLUEGEL, WELLPOINT INC.: Hospital costs going up over 11 percent, pharmaceutical costs going up over 13 percent – that's what we really need to be focused on.

TRACY: However, last year, Anthem sent an estimated $525 million in profit to its parent company, Wellpoint. Today, California's insurance regulator announced 732 violations by Anthem, including late payment of claims and misleading consumers.

STEVE POIZNER, CALIFORNIA INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: We want them to, number one, pay all claims on time; number two, pay all claims completely.

LISAK: This is cute, I think.

TRACY: Ilene Lisak just wants to focus on picking out her baby's name.

LISAK: Things that bring you joy, not this. This is not joyful.

TRACY: Not when you can't afford insurance but can't afford to live without it. Ben Tracy, CBS News, Los Angeles.


NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now, to Washington and politics. We've heard it before, but this really could be a do or die week for the President's plan to overhaul health care. There's a new administration plan on the table, a negotiating session with Republicans scheduled to be televised live. Our White House correspondent, Savannah Guthrie, with us from the White House with more on this tonight. Savannah?
                        
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Good evening, Brian. This new plan of the President's looks a lot like the old plan, just repackaged. But senior aides say this is just an opening bid, and they're challenging Republicans to come forward with new ideas other than, dump the bill and start over.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We've taken up the cause of better health care.

GUTHRIE: The President today unveiled his latest effort to resurrect health care reform from a political near death experience.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: An affordable care act is passed.

GUTHRIE: A version very close to the bill that passed the Senate before Christmas, creating a national insurance marketplace, requiring individuals to buy insurance, but subsidizing those who can't afford it, and banning insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. But the President's plan makes key tweaks. Gone is the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback,” millions in extra Medicaid funding Ben Nelson secured in exchange for his yes vote.

A plan to pay for reform by taxing high-value insurance plans would kick in later, driving the 10-year cost up to $950 billion. And the federal government would have authority to stop insurance companies from excessive premium hikes. The White House has seized on a California company's decision to jack up rates 39 percent. This Redondo Beach mother was stunned.

TATIANA KOROLSHTEYN, ANTHEM BLUE CROSS CUSTOMER: Do I go without insurance? Does my daughter go without insurance? What are we supposed to do?

GUTHRIE: The President has summoned Republican and Democratic lawmakers to a televised negotiation session on Thursday. But if a bipartisan breakthrough doesn't come, Democrats appear poised to use special Senate rules to push the bill through.

ROBERT GIBBS: I do think the President believes there ought to be an up or down vote on health care.

GUTHRIE: Today Republicans said simply, start over.

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Americans want the administration to scrap its massive government scheme in favor of an incremental approach to health care reform.

GUTHRIE: Well, Republicans say this summit on Thursday is all for show, and that Democrats have ignored their ideas. The White House says their plans do incorporate Republican ideas, so on and on it goes, Brian.

WILLIAMS: All right, Savannah Guthrie at the White House with the latest on where that story stands. Savannah, thanks.

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