CBS: Universal Health Care a Moral Imperative

CBS's love affair with universal health care, especially the Massachusetts version, was on display once again May 31, as reporter Priya David cited the program's director describing it as a “moral imperative.”

David acknowledged the program's rapidly spiraling cost, but failed to interview expert critics fo the program, and never addressed the wisdom of shifting responsibility for health care from individuals to the government.

Massachusetts implemented its state-run health insurance program, Commonwealth Connector, two years ago.  CBS Evening News weekend anchor Jeff Glor noted this milestone and led into the feature saying the presidential candidates, with their “competing” plans for health care, could learn something from the “pioneering” universal care model being implemented in Massachusetts.  This talking point – making the Massachusetts program a model for the country– is a familiar one at CBS, which has promoted the plan since it debuted. 

David's story adopted the all-too-familiar approach of focusing on a tragic case of a woman who suffered a “disaster” and had no health insurance.  After letting the woman tell her story David introduced the parameters of the Commonwealth Connector program.  It was at that point she linked state-mandated health care with morality.

DAVID: It's called the Commonwealth Connector, the first statewide attempt at universal health care. Every resident is required by law to have health insurance. If employers don't provide it, people making over $15,000 a year must pay into a plan or be penalized at tax time. People with incomes under $15,000 are insured at no cost. Executive director Jon Kingsdale calls it a moral imperative.

KINGSDALE: I think we have to do it. I mean, the cost of not covering them in terms of lost productivity and human loss are just tremendous.

Without blinking an eye, David reported that the cost of the Massachusetts program is “spiraling upward with no end in sight.”  This fact should have been a call for some kind of fiscal commentary, especially when hard numbers were assigned to the cost.

DAVID: But the cost of covering the state's estimated 650,000 uninsured is spiraling upward with no end in sight.

KINGSDALE:  What we project for next year is $869 million.

DAVID: So we're talking about close to a billion dollars – in a few years?

KINGSDALE: That's right. Close to a billion dollars in just three years.

Rather than take advantage of this ideal opportunity to incorporate a fiscally conservative critic of the Massachusetts plan, David moved on to another personal story.  A woman who made $24,000 a year and didn't qualify for state-paid coverage was upset because her $100 monthly premium was unaffordable. At least David acknowledged that the universal plan does not enjoy universal support.

DAVID: 61-year-old Dianne Cooper Bridges doesn't make much but she makes too much to qualify for free health care.

COOPER BRIDGES: What they did was they took the responsibility of the uninsured and placed the burden on the shoulders of the uninsured themselves that can least afford that burden.

DAVID: Self-employed, Cooper makes about $24,000 a year. Her monthly premium is $100 a month, which she says she can't afford, but if she doesn't pay, she'll be fined $912 at tax time.

COOPER BRIDGES: Then I wind up still uninsured, and I can't pay my bills. It's flawed. It's ridiculous on its face.

KINGSDALE: It's a heavy lift. This reform is based on the principle of shared responsibility.

DAVID: But many like Bridges resent sharing responsibility with people who are paying nothing.

David reported that proponents of the Massachusetts plan agree that it has “bugs” but she swept aside the shifting of responsibility from individual to government, with its accompanying near-billion dollar price tag. David's conclusion: “the bottom line is 340,000 people, roughly half of those without insurance two years ago, are now covered.”

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.