PBS’s Ifill Tries to Shame Dick Cheney for Having Good Health Care

On Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour, anchor Gwen Ifill interviewed former Vice President Dick Cheney about his notorious heart troubles as documented in his new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey. Apparently unwilling to let a good conversation about healthcare go to waste, Ifill spent the latter half of the interview trying to use Cheney’s experience as an infomercial for why America needs ObamaCare.

Ifill began to steer the conversation in ObamaCare’s direction in a subtle manner:

"When you were a young man, you tell the story about how you decided to get insurance even though you didn't really feel like you were a sick person at all and that that allowed you to be able to afford the care you received after your first heart attack."
 

That sounds like an indirect message: Hey, young adults, you may feel invincible now, but you might someday suffer a heart attack like Dick Cheney. Sign up for ObamaCare now (because we really need you in order to make the numbers work).

Cheney, for his part, replied that he only purchased health insurance after he was married with kids. Ifill then got more explicit:
 

"As you watch this debate we're having now about healthcare and insurance and mandated insurance around the country, do you ever look at it through the experience that you had growing up as someone who needed, it turned out, extreme medical care?"

Just because Cheney needed “extreme medical care” doesn’t mean that everyone will, or that everyone should be forced to buy insurance. Cheney said that, in fact, he didn’t have insurance the first time he went to the hospital, at age 23. He had to pay his medical bills using the money he had saved for his honeymoon. Although he didn’t say it during this interview, that may have factored into his decision to buy insurance a few years later, once he had a family. If Cheney can make the best health care decision for himself and his family, based on his changing circumstances, why can’t the average American?

Later in the interview, Ifill’s purpose became even more clear when she asked Cheney this:
 

"As someone who has benefitted from excellent care, do you think that you would have survived as well as you appear to be doing today had you not been the vice president, someone with access to that kind of care?"

Way to set a guilt trap for the former vice president, Gwen. But as Cheney pointed out, most of his health problems occurred before he became vice president, when he only had a Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan. As vice president, he had a doctor assigned to him 24/7, but then again, he was an important person with a history of heart problems at that point. When Cheney mentioned his White House physician, Ifill replied, “What about people with your health profile who don't have those kinds of advantages?”

The implication, of course, was that we need socialized medicine. That’s been the drumbeat from the liberal media for several years now. And there is perhaps nothing as stereotypically liberal as trying to gin up anger against a man who happens to be privileged.

Below is a transcript of the segment:


GWEN IFILL: When you were a young man, you tell the story about how you decided to get insurance even though you didn't really feel like you were a sick person at all and that that allowed you to be able to afford the care you received after your first heart attack.

DICK CHENEY: Well, I got it when I went to work for the federal government. I signed up for the regular Blue Cross-Blue Shield policy that was available for all federal employees. And by the time I did that, I was married and had kids and a family, I had obligations and I thought an insurance policy was the right thing to do.

IFILL: As you watch this debate we're having now about healthcare and insurance and mandated insurance around the country, do you ever look at it through the experience that you had growing up as someone who needed, it turned out, extreme medical care?

CHENEY: Well, when I –  first time probably I was ever in the hospital I didn't have insurance. I was 23 years old, shortly before Lynne and I got married. I got sick, hospitalized, had no insurance and the money I’d saved for our honeymoon went to pay medical bills, so I’ve been in the position of not having insurance when I needed healthcare. Obviously it’s a big problem that I think everybody’s wrestled with in recent years in terms of how do we provide quality care to the maximum number of people? And it's not an easy problem to solve, as you can see from the current debate. The thing that I worry about is that in the rush to ObamaCare and the problems that are arising with the program and the website and so forth, that there's a real danger here that we’ll do serious damage to what is the world's best healthcare system, and I really believe it is. So, for example, things such as the device tax. There's a provision in the new bill for – in the new law for medical devices to be taxed. That raises serious questions about the ability to continue the pace of innovation and in effect to save my life with stents, implantable defibrillators, left ventricular assist device and so forth. All of those things came really from the private sector, people taking a chance, entrepreneurs, and when you begin to tax that to generate revenue for the federal government, you worry about what it does to that mechanism that's obviously reduced the incidence of death from heart disease in this country by 50 percent.



IFILL: If that tax were removed, do you think that would be a reasonable solution to the standoff we're having about ObamaCare?

CHENEY: No. It's an important issue that needs to be addressed, but I don't think it solves the bigger problem.

IFILL: And what's the bigger problem?

CHENEY: Well, I think the bigger problem is that the complexity of the new program of ObamaCare generally, the difficulties that are involved, the president having said repeatedly that you can keep your insurance if you want it turns out not to have been true, but that apparently was true from the get-go. And I wonder what other additional surprises are in there that are only now being sorted out in terms of how we're going to accommodate all these people. For example, this whole problem that only if we get healthy youngsters to sign up, people in their 20's, will we have the revenue to be able to fund the benefits that have been promised to the elderly sick. That strikes me as a potential problem of major significance.

IFILL: As someone who has benefitted from excellent care, do you think that you would have survived as well as you appear to be doing today had you not been the vice president, someone with access to that kind of care?

CHENEY: Well the care I had, basically most of the time, as I say, it was Blue Cross-Blue Shield paid the bills for that whole period. I would say when I got to be secretary of Defense, shortly after I had had bypass surgery and cholesterol-lowering drugs came in, I had basically a 12-year period there where I was free of any difficulties. When I got to the White House, there's an advantage obviously in having a physician assigned to you 24 hours a day, which I did, but that was in part because of my past health history.

IFILL: What about people with your health profile who don't have those kinds of advantages?

CHENEY: Well, the care I got in terms of the procedures and the medications and so forth is available to anybody who is in the system. So I didn't get anything extraordinary there. What happened to me, because as vice president obviously, the country has an interest in the health and capability of the president and vice president – that's why there's a thing called the White House medical unit, just like Secret Service protection. It's [inaudible] that goes along with the job but it's not a perk. It's something that the country has an interest in seeing to it that we keep the president and vice president as healthy as possible.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.