If anyone doubts that that newspapers are having a hard time in the age of the Internet, they only need look at a recent article on health care reform that found its way into the news pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where, apparently, recent staff cutbacks have resulted in a serious lack of oversight. The article I am referring to, by one Richard Martin, appeared in the paper last Friday (July 3) and was reprinted from the St. Petersburg Times. It repeats the tired, old claim that the uninsured are often uninsured by choice and that most actually get health care despite their uninsured status:
Among the 47 million are 9.1 million who earn $75,000 or more a year and 11 million who declined coverage from their employers, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Employment Policies Institute. That also includes many who are young, single and healthy, plus a growing number who rely on alternative and faith-based therapies usually not covered by traditional insurance plans.
These are the voluntarily uninsured, people who may not welcome Washington’s efforts to make sure that all Americans have some kind of coverage.
The trick is that the article pretends that these contentions are brand spanking new discoveries that should maybe reshape the health care debate. To this end, the author subtly conjures a conservative talking point straight out of the Frank Luntz health care playbook. Luntz admonishes Republicans to stress:
“One-size-does-NOT-fit-all.” The idea that a “committee of Washington bureaucrats” will establish the standard of care for all Americans and decide who gets what treatment based on how much it costs is anathema to Americans.
Compare Martin’s observation that:
In other words, it’s [i.e., the uninsured is] a diverse group with diverse interests, and that has policy experts concerned about the Senate approach.
Sounds like he’s trying to say “one size does not fit all” to me.
Surely the author of this article, who is, putatively at least, a “real” journalist, could have done just a little bit of research into the numerous studies on the uninsured, most of which indicate that the picture is far more complicated than implied by the facile talking points he repeats in his article. In the past few years, trusted, nonpartisan sources such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and the Kaiser Family Foundation have have shown just how empty the narrative of the willfully uninsured really is. As Factcheck.org puts it:
… those who turn down available coverage don’t always do so because they’re in great health and don’t want to pay for it. Many find it to be unavailable, or can’t afford it at the price offered.
The uninsured still receive much less medical care and consume fewer medical resources than the insured. KFF found that those who were insured year-round incurred much greater health expenses than the full-year or part-year uninsured – $4,463 per person, versus $1,686 for the full-year uninsured and $2,983 for the part-year uninsured, $2,601 of which was incurred while they had insurance
This article may just be careless reporting, or it might be an intentional effort to plant a false narrative. Who knows? And who cares at this juncture? The crime that concerns me is that the Post-Dispatch, which many in our community actually still rely on for information, chose to print what is effectively a piece of propaganda in its news pages — where we expect to find fact, not opinion.
To be absolutely fair, it is true that the Post-Dispatch has produced some very reasonable editorials on health care, as well as op-eds, such as this piece which seeks to debunk several conservative memes. I also want to be very clear that I don’t object to editorials that present opinions that I do not agree with as long as they argue fairly and acknowledge opposing arguments. Nor do I object to op-eds that present the other side as long as they are not the only opinions on offer.
The problem is that many powerful special interests have an awful lot to lose if we really change the way we care for the health of our citizens. Consequently, since raw greed is not really attractive to its victims, it is not surprising that those who oppose meaningful reform have resorted to rummaging through the conservative ideological attic for the rags left over from previous iterations of this fight. It is really a shame that a once first-rate paper is helping this masquerade by printing stale research and unfounded conclusions as real news.