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09.19 Shell and Exxon's secret 1980s climate change warnings [that capitalists suppressed this for continuing profit is the most unforgivable crime ever]Trump administration rolls back methane pollution rule despite harmful health impacts [continuing in the tradition of stupid capitalism at all costs]

09.18 'I was horrified that children are breathing air this dirty inside the school' [if your government isn't working, change it!]

09.17 California plans to show the world how to meet the Paris climate target

09.16 Universal healthcare was unthinkable in America, but not any more

09.16 Air pollution particles found in mothers' placentas

09.16 Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn’t the world copied it?

09.13 The Guardian view on electric cars: stopped by industry inaction [Vroom Vroom is Dumb Dumb]

09.13 Electric future? Global push to move away from gas-powered cars

09.12 The Secret Drug Pricing System Middlemen Use to Rake in Millions

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09.19 'Killing a generation': one million more children at risk from famine in Yemen [Does America's government have empathy? Does it understand the concept of morality? The Saudi Air Force would be ineffective without U.S. military assistance...]

09.19 ‘Tied to trees and raped’: UN report details Rohingya horrors

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09.18 'Unconscionable' and 'Appalling': In Affront to Those Fleeing US-Backed Wars and Persecution, Trump Slams Door on Refugees

09.17 For Whom the Climate Bell Tolls

09.17 How to Humanely Solve Europe's Migration Crisis

09.15 A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come [SCARY]

09.15 Crossing Germany's divide — encounters with far-right protesters

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  Frontline Distorts Global Healthcare Options
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Frontline Distorts Global Healthcare Options

PBS show treats mandatory for-profit insurance as the only alternative

SOURCE: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
7 April 2009
Frontline's new documentary perpetuates the media's longstanding pattern of ignoring proposals for single-payer health insurance, despite the fact that this proposal polls well with the American public and has been codified in a bill co-sponsored by 74 congressmembers.
The March 31 documentary by PBS's Frontline, Sick Around America, treated mandatory for-profit insurance coverage as the only alternative to the current U.S. healthcare system--even though the documentary was a sequel to a 2008 Frontline special, Sick Around the World (4/15/08), that examined several publicly funded healthcare models, including Taiwan's single-payer system.

In a segment of Sick Around America subtitled "How to Get a Fairer System," Frontline narrator Will Lyman asked Karen Ignati, a spokesperson from the insurers' trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, why the U.S. couldn't guarantee coverage for all like other developed countries do. After Ignati responded that her industry could only guarantee universal coverage if the government required all citizens to have insurance, Lyman stated:

That's what other developed countries do. They make insurers cover everyone and they make all citizens buy insurance. And the poor are subsidized.

This generalization about other developed countries being places where "people are mandated to buy" insurance is also repeated on Frontline's web page about Sick Around America, in a paragraph that contains a link to the Sick Around the World investigation. The only alternative to the current U.S. healthcare system that was examined in any depth in Sick Around America was Massachusetts' system of mandating that people buy insurance from for-profit health insurance companies.

But this exclusive focus on mandatory for-profit health insurance as a solution to the healthcare problems facing the nation negated Frontline's earlier findings about the healthcare systems in developed countries. None of the healthcare systems featured in Sick Around the World is based on mandatory purchase of for-profit insurance; indeed, as a report by the Canadian government noted (5/97; revised 2/01), "The United States is the only OECD country that relies primarily on private insurance for healthcare financing."

Frontline's 2008 documentary actually highlighted Taiwan's single-payer model of healthcare system. As Frontline correspondent T.R. Reid explained, when Taiwanese healthcare adopted single-payer it went from being "worse than America's is today," with high rates of uninsured, to a system that guarantees coverage for all and "has the lowest administrative costs in the world, less than 2 percent." The U.K.'s system of public national health insurance was also featured.

And as Reid emphasized in the conclusion of the 2008 report, in countries where there is some private-sector role in health financing, one of the central lessons is that they "all impose limits," including that insurance companies "can't make a profit on basic care." (This point is made by one source in passing in Sick Around America, but it's easy to miss.)

Reid was supposed to be the correspondent for the new documentary, but he revealed in an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter (4/2/09) that he quit over concerns that the new documentary contradicted his earlier research:

"I said to them, mandating for-profit insurance is not the lesson from other countries in the world," Reid said. "I said, I'm not going to be in a film that contradicts my previous film and my book. They said I had to be in the film because I was under contract. I insisted that I couldn't be. And we parted ways.

"Doctors, hospitals, nurses, labs can all be for-profit," Reid said. "But the payment system has to be non-profit. All the other countries have agreed on that. We are the only one that allows health insurance companies to make a profit. You can't allow a profit to be made on the basic package of health insurance."

Frontline's new documentary perpetuates the media's longstanding pattern of ignoring proposals for single-payer health insurance (FAIR Media Advisory, 3/6/09), despite the fact that this proposal polls well with the American public and has been codified in a bill co-sponsored by 74 congressmembers. While Sick Around America included several spokespeople from the health insurance industry, no single-payer advocate was featured in the documentary.


Ask Frontline why Sick Around America misrepresented the findings of Sick Around the World, treating mandatory for-profit insurance coverage as the only alternative to the current U.S. healthcare system.


Please share your letters to Frontline by posting them in the comments section on the FAIR Blog.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is a nonpartisan media watchdog organization. Visit for more information, or share your opinion about this story by writing to Republished in the Chronicle with permission from F.A.I.R.

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This story was published on April 9, 2009.


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