Media Marginalizes Majority Position on Health Care

By David Swanson, ILCA Media Coordinator
Part of the Media Blackout series on underreported labor stories

Single-payer health care is, according to numerous surveys, supported by a majority of Americans.i Few public policies are inspiring more activism and advocacy in the United States right now than single-payer health care at the national and state levels.ii Organizations are holding marches across major city bridges. Think tanks and foundations and labor unions are generating studies. Doctors, patients, and labor and community organizations are rallying for the cause. Bills have been introduced in Congress and various state legislatures. Polls by the media consistently rank health care as one of the public’s biggest concerns when considering political candidates.iii

Labor unions on strike and negotiating contracts usually cite health care as a primary point of contention. Numerous Congressional and state candidates advocate single-payer health care, as did a third of the presidential candidates during much of the run-up to the Democratic primaries. And the media gives extensive, though rarely substantive, coverage to health care. Yet, the media marginalizes single-payer health care, omitting it from discussion, failing to cover mass movements in support of it, misrepresenting what it means, falsely reporting that it is unpopular, and labeling it with scary names intended to make it inadmissible for consideration.

Single-payer health care means private health care publicly paid for. Under such a system, patients would choose their own doctors but be insured by the government rather than being covered by an HMO or private insurance company or not being covered at all.iv The United States would join nearly every other industrialized nation in covering all of its citizens fully, from cradle to grave, with no individual bills, co-payments, or deductibles. Vast amounts of waste in the private insurance industry would be eliminated, so that, according to countless analyses, the nation would spend less to cover everyone than we now spend to leave 45 million uncovered and tens of millions more insufficiently covered.v In effect, Medicare would be enhanced and expanded to cover all patients and to cover all necessary and preventive medicine. But doctors would remain in private practice and would not become government employees.

October 3rd to 10th was “Health Care Action Week” and witnessed numerous public forums and protests. As part of this largely unsuccessful effort to get the media’s attention, Jobs With Justice released a report funded by six labor unions and developed by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The report covered new ground with national data and, for the first time, provided state level data on the funds that could be saved by cutting out waste in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The report, titled “Waste Not, Want Not,” showed that approximately $245 billion is wasted on private insurance red tape, patent protection sheltering drug companies from competition, and subsidies to private insurance companies in George W. Bush’s recently enacted Medicare bill. That’s more than enough money to insure all Americans who lacked coverage all or part of last year.

Jobs With Justice and other organizations promoted this report ahead of its release date in many states. Often reporters enjoy nothing better than the ease of covering a report that provides them with new information on a major story and includes both national and state angles. Not this time. New York Times reporters either didn’t return calls or said they were too busy, according to Jobs With Justice National Organizer Rand Wilson. A Boston Globe reporter told him the study was “biased.” Various labor and progressive web-based publications covered the report, including the Union Advocate, Press Associates Inc., TomPaine.com, and BlackCommentator.com. But the corporate media was less interested. Marketplace Morning Report on public radio was the only national outlet to report on the study.

Six local newspapers covered it, the largest being the Boston Herald, which devoted about 100 words to the report and another 100 to the opinion of a “pro-business” institute that called the report “na