In health-care special featuring mainly free-market advocates, Stossel endorsed Health Savings Accounts

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

During a one-hour report on ABC's 20/20 on "America's health-care system," co-host John Stossel interviewed five advocates of free-market approaches to health care but only one advocate of increased government-mandated health coverage. The five free-market advocates were interviewed on air for a total of 6 minutes, 24 seconds, while the lone advocate of a public health system, filmmaker Michael Moore, was interviewed on air for a total of 1:40.

On a special September 14 edition of ABC's 20/20, co-host John Stossel presented a one-hour report on "America's health care system," which Stossel said "most everyone agrees" is "a mess." During the program, he interviewed five advocates of free-market approaches to health care but only one advocate of increased government-mandated health coverage. He began the program by asserting: "Tonight, we ask some provocative questions about your health care. We get some surprising answers." But, the only advocate of a public health system Stossel interviewed during the program was filmmaker Michael Moore. By contrast, Stossel interviewed Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a free-market health-care research organization; David Gratzer, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research; Regina Herzlinger, another senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Harvard Business School professor; John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, described by People for the American Way as a network of national and local right-wing think tanks; and John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, a self-described "ardent libertarian," to advocate a market-based health-care system. Stossel did not note either Gratzer or Herzlinger's affiliation with the Manhattan Institute. During the program, Stossel and his interviewees advocated Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). But Stossel aired only a five-second criticism of HSAs from an unidentified person and did not note that several progressive groups oppose HSAs.

As Media Matters for America documented, after a preview of Stossel's special on the September 14 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, host Diane Sawyer told Stossel, "It is so hard to get perspective on this. Thank heaven you're doing it." As he did on 20/20, Stossel included a clip of Gratzer during Good Morning America but did not point out his affiliation with the Manhattan Institute.

In a 5 minute, 48 second segment on HSAs, Stossel profiled accounts offered by Whole Foods and included interview segments with Whole Foods CEO Mackey and free-market proponents Herzlinger and Turner, but only a five-second criticism from an unidentified person. HSAs were first created by the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act, passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2003 and signed by President Bush. As described by the Treasury Department, such plans allow individuals to save money tax-free to pay for most medical care while enrolling in a "High Deductible Health Plan" with a deductible of at least $1,100 for individuals or $2,200 for families that covers large health-care expenses. President Bush has endorsed expansion of the HSA program, including in his 2005, 2006, and 2007 State of the Union addresses. However, a January 31, 2006, article in USA Today reported that "[c]ritics of health savings accounts, including the Commonwealth Fund and Consumers Union, say lower-income people can't afford high-deductible plans and that some people will go without needed health care if they are required to spend more." The AFL-CIO and Families USA also oppose HSAs. Stossel mentioned none of this criticism in his report, and instead endorsed HSAs as better than increased government involvement in health care, stating: "[W]hen doctors deal directly with consumers and consumers pay for things themselves, saving insurance for the big stuff, doctors start to compete, posting prices and working to keep them low. Where consumers decide for themselves, rather than having governments or insurance companies make decisions for them, competition erupts and competition gives us more choices. Choice gives us power."

Additionally, Media Matters counted the amount of time devoted to on-air interviews throughout the hour-long special, titled "Whose Body is it Anyway? Sick in America." Segments in which patients discussed their experiences with the health-care systems in Canada and the United States were not included, since they did not advocate for specific changes to the U.S. health-care system. During the program, Moore was interviewed on air for a total of 1:40, while the five free-market advocates were interviewed on air for a total of 6:24.

As Media Matters has documented, Stossel has in the past asserted that "global warming may be a good thing," and claimed that it is a "myth" that "women earn less" than men for "doing the same work."

From the September 14 edition of ABC's 20/20:

STOSSEL: The next hour affects every one of us, because it's about health care. Tonight we ask some provocative questions about your health care. We get some surprising answers. Most everyone agrees, America's health-care system is a mess.

[...]

STOSSEL: So when doctors deal directly with consumers and consumers pay for things themselves, saving insurance for the big stuff, doctors start to compete, posting prices and working to keep them low. Where consumers decide for themselves, rather than having governments or insurance companies make decisions for them, competition erupts and competition gives us more choices. Choice gives us power. Michael Moore should know that. After all, when he at one time weighed about 330 pounds and wanted help losing weight, where did he go? Not to Cuba or Canada or England or France. He went to this weight loss spa in Florida. It's privately run.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [video clip]: Now down in the water. Hold it.

STOSSEL: That's our program for tonight. Next week --

ELVIS PRESLEY [video clip]: (singing) Viva Las Vegas!

STOSSEL: -- Elvis, Viva Las Vegas, the two-hour special.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Network/Outlet
ABC
Person
John Stossel
Show/Publication
20/20
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