NPR's 'Non-Partisan' Talking Head Served in the Obama and Clinton Administrations

On Monday's Morning Edition on NPR, Minnesota Public Radio correspondent Elizabeth Stawicki featured Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation during a report about ObamaCare, but failed to mention the left-leaning political affiliation of the organization. Stawicki merely labeled the foundation "non-partisan".

The public radio journalist also failed to mention that Pollitz is an alumna of both the Obama and Clinton administrations, and previously worked for two Democratic politicians.

During her lead-in for the segment, host Renee Montagne underlined "the importance and difficulty of getting younger people to buy health insurance...for the new law [ObamaCare] to work, it needs the healthiest Americans to sign up for coverage." Stawicki picked up where Montagne left off. After spotlighting a 24-year-old Minnesotan, who hasn't bought health insurance due to his good health and because of the cost, the correspondent noted that "it's this kind of attitude that's one of the biggest challenges for the Affordable Care Act. Getting young, healthy people to sign up for coverage is critical to keep rates affordable for everyone."

Stawicki then turned to Pollitz, who bemoaned how young adults were often left uninsured before the Affordable Care Act changed the status quo:

KAREN POLLITZ, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION: We kick them off our policy as soon as they graduate from high school or college. We kick them off of Medicaid on their 19th birthday. So, they lose their dependent status just as they reach adulthood, but before, typically, they are able to find a job that provides good health benefits.

The journalist didn't once mention that besides being a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Pollitz was the deputy assistant secretary for health legislation at the Department of Health and Human Services between 1993 and 1997, the first term of former President Clinton. Prior to this, she was a legislative assistant for Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller and Democratic Rep. Sander Levin, according to a biography on the organization's website.

Montagne did disclose at the end of the segment that Stawicki's report was "produced as part of a collaboration between NPR, MPR News, and Kaiser Health News." NPR correspondent Julie Rovner, who has a history of filing one-sided reports on health care, would regularly cite Kaiser Family Foundation without pointing out this partnership.

The full transcript of Elizabeth Stawicki's report on Monday's Morning Edition:


RENEE MONTAGNE: First, though, the importance and difficulty of getting younger people to buy health insurance. That group has come to be called the 'young invincibles', because they think they are invincible – that they won't get sick or in an accident. But for the new law to work, it needs the healthiest Americans to sign up for coverage.

Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Stawicki reports.

ELIZABETH STAWICKI: Twenty-four-year-old Robert Bauer – blond, wavy-haired, and lean – looks the picture of health. A 2011 graduate of the University of Minnesota, he works in organic farm fields three days a week, and prides himself on eating well. But he doesn't have health insurance.

ROBERT BAUER: I don't think it's worth the money for me to get health insurance at this point.

STAWICKI: Bauer is healthy; he exercises; he doesn't go to the doctor that often – so, he really just isn't that concerned about health insurance.

BAUER: I guess I don't worry that much about it. It's just the mentality of that couldn't happen to me.

STAWICKI: It's this kind of attitude that's one of the biggest challenges for the Affordable Care Act. Getting young, healthy people to sign up for coverage is critical to keep rates affordable for everyone.

Karen Pollitz is with the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation. She says, on average, adults in their 20s tend to use less health care than people in their 60s. So, we should be actively encouraging young people to sign up. Instead, we systematically uninsured them.

KAREN POLLITZ, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION: We kick them off our policy as soon as they graduate from high school or college. We kick them off of Medicaid on their 19th birthday. So, they lose their dependent status just as they reach adulthood, but before, typically, they are able to find a job that provides good health benefits.

STAWICKI: That's changed a little, since the Affordable Care Act now allows children to stay on their parents' policy until age 26. But that doesn't help young people such as Bauer, whose mother is uninsured, and whose father is on disability.

Minnesota is one of a few states building its own online insurance marketplace, called MNsure. MNsure's executive director, April Todd-Malmlov, says Minnesota will target young adults in two ways: in the social media they use, such as Twitter and Facebook, and the messages themselves.

APRIL TODD-MALMLOV, MNSURE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: What really appeals to that younger age group is both affordability – so they just feel they can't afford it – and also communicating the value of insurance, and how valuable it is to have that and why you need it.

STAWICKI: Robert Bauer may get health coverage after all. He'll be attending graduate school at Virginia Tech to study plant and soil science, where he says insurance will cost him $200 a year in out-of-pocket costs. Bauer says he can afford that. After all, it's only about $100 more than the penalty he would have to pay if he chose not to get insurance. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Stawicki in St. Paul.

MONTAGNE: And that story was produced as part of a collaboration between NPR, MPR News, and Kaiser Health News.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center