CBS: Choice Is a Dirty Word

“Private” must be the new cuss word, because “CBS Evening News” sure made it sound dirty on July 16.

“It was the winter of 2003, when Congress, in the dead of night, overhauled Medicare … [Medicare Advantage] and it put a large part of a government-run program into the hands of private insurance companies,” said investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

A little bit later Keteyian continued to explain the “problem:”

“Private Medicare Advantage offers as many as 50 different plans, causing untold confusion over coverage, premiums, copays, provider networks.”

Yes, and I’m sure going to a restaurant that served only chicken would be less confusing than a restaurant with a full menu of options: salads, soups, appetizers and entrees. But I’d personally rather make the choice for myself.

The CBS segment promoted government run health insurance by scaring seniors about Medicare privatization. Keteyian relied on Bob Hayes of the Medicare Rights Center which fields “thousands of calls from seniors scared to death they’ve made the wrong choice.”

But Keteyian never stated that the Medicare Rights Centers is against all Medicare privatization and advocates Medicare for everyone – can you say universal health care?

CBS barely included the perspective that choice can be good. The head of Medicare, Leslie Norwalk was given about ten seconds to express that point before Keteyian attacked the potential profit insurance companies are making from the program.The CBS correspondent called the plans "expensive" to taxpayers.

The report featured one disgruntled senior, Aaron Cohen, who didn’t get home therapy paid for for his broken leg. However, CBS used that anecdotal evidence to suggest all seniors who chose private plans are unhappy.

But according Wall Street Journal reporters, the Medicare Advantage provision in the 2003 legislation is extremely popular.

“Hundreds of thousands of seniors are signing up for a type of privately run Medicare plan that delivers traditional benefits without the usual restrictions on access to doctors and hospitals,” said the Journal on Aug. 29, 2006.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.