60 Minutes Ignores Warnings, Broadcasts Faulty Left-Wing Data on Drug Spending

April 2nd, 2007 11:18 PM

The National Center for Public Policy Research's health care senior policy analyst, David Hogberg, contacted

the CBS television show "60 Minutes" five times last week -- by telephone, fax and e-mail -- to warn the show's producers that a report by the leftie big-government health care lobby group Families USA, which "60 Minutes" planned to highlight in Sunday's show, rested on faulty data.

The Families USA report made certain claims in support of calls that Medicare be permitted to "negotiate (read: dictate) drug prices to drug companies. An analysis David completed for the National Center in January, and which he made available to "60 Minutes," called the Families USA study "nonsense."

As David explained in a National Center press release today:

The Medicare drug price data used in the [Families USA] report to compare Medicare drug costs to the VA's drug costs come from only two counties - Montgomery County, Maryland and Hamilton County, Ohio. Based on median household income, both counties are above the national average. Montgomery County, for instance, is the fourth-richest county in the nation. Since wealthier areas, on average, tend to pay higher prices, Families USA's use of these counties as the source of their sample data all but guarantees that the Medicare drug prices data in their study will be exaggeratedly high.

In an e-mail last week, David Hogberg warned "60 Minutes" producers, "I want to emphasize that if you use the report in your segment, in the interest of journalistic objectivity you should have someone on the segment disputing its findings."

When the report aired, however, the "60 Minutes" segment did not feature anyone disputing the Families USA report.

David described the show further in an American Spectator op-ed published today:

Reporter Steve Kroft... stated, "Families USA reported in a January study that Medicare patients are being charged nearly 60 percent more for the top twenty drugs than veterans pay under a program run by the Veterans Administration." Yet Montgomery County, one of the two counties used in the study, had a median household income more than 80 percent greater than the median income for all of the U.S. Did Kroft note that? Of course not! He simply sucked up to Ron Pollack of Families USA by lobbing him a softball: "And this [the lower VA price] is because the VA negotiates with the drug companies on price?" "That's correct," replied Pollack.

But the VA only negotiates the price of a drug after the drug company has agreed to the VA's price control. If a drug company does not agree to sell its drug to the VA for 24% less than the average commercial price, then the VA does not include the drug on its formulary and, thus, VA patients do not have access to it. Once the drug company has agreed to an initial price control, then the VA tries to negotiate the price down further.

60 Minutes also misled viewers about the political ideologies driving Families USA. In the segment, Steve Kroft called the group a "non-partisan health care watchdog group." In fact, the group's executive staff and board of directors are filled with current and former Democrat politicians, Clinton Administration appointees and union executives who disproportionately fund Democrat candidates.

"Families USA was made out to be a disinterested, objective organization," David said in the press release. "It completely obscures the fact that Families USA is a left-wing organization with an agenda of increasing government involvement in health care. Apparently, they are all too happy to flack for any left-wing interest group."

Bias on drug issues may be standard procedure at the broadcast networks.

A report

by NewsBusters managing editor Ken Shepherd and Amy Menefee of the MRC's Business & Media Institute examined 132 stories on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newcasts during nine months in 2006 and noted that "nearly 80 percent of the stories excluded the viewpoint of the pharmaceutical industry, failing to include either a company statement or a company spokesman."

Full disclosure: I work for the same think-tank as David Hogberg, the National Center for Public Policy Research.