MSNBC ignores Galen Institute's reported health care industry ties


MSNBC's Contessa Brewer hosted Galen Institute president Grace-Marie Turner to discuss a tax proposal to finance health care reform. But MSNBC did not note that Turner's group is reportedly funded in part by the pharmaceutical and medical industries, or that the group explicitly advocates free-market principles for the health care sector.

During the May 12 edition of MSNBC Live, MSNBC featured Galen Institute president Grace-Marie Turner to discuss a tax proposal that host Contessa Brewer said lawmakers are considering in order to finance health care reform. However, MSNBC described the group only as "a public policy research organization," failing to note that according to biographical information included with a number of Turner's opinion pieces, her group is "funded by the pharmaceutical and medical industries," which obviously have an interest in the outcome of Congress' deliberations.

For instance, biographical information included with Turner's May 11 opinion piece (registration required), distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Media Services, notes that Galen is "funded by the pharmaceutical and medical industries." Similarly, the bio accompanying Turner's February 27 op-ed, distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service, noted that the group is "funded in part by the pharmaceutical and medical industries."

Additionally, MSNBC did not note that the Galen Institute explicitly advocates free-market principles for the health care sector. According to the group's website, "[t]he Galen Institute was founded ... to promote a conversation over free-market ideas in the health sector." The group's "Mission & History" page also describes the current direction of health care reform as a "march toward government-controlled medicine."

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on May 12:

BREWER: While the U.S. may desperately need health care reform, lawmakers also desperately need a way to pay for it. One possibility they are looking at: taxing sugary soft drinks. The idea faces backlash from the beverage industry and from Americans who would have to pay several cents more for a soft drink. Joining me now live from Washington, D.C., is Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, which is a public policy research organization.

Why doesn't that make sense? Because, after all, people who drink a lot of sugary soft drinks and alcohol end up being the ones who are more prone to obesity, and obesity causes a lot of health care costs to skyrocket. So why doesn't that make sense?

TURNER: Well, where do you stop? After you do soft drinks, then do you do candy bars, and then do you do fast food restaurants? Are we going to tax french fries? It starts to become a real game to figure out who's going to get taxed or who is not. So it's a very difficult thing -- just as trying to figure out how you're going to cut any health expenditures in the health system. Who is going to take the first hit?

It's very difficult when you start to do it on this kind of piecemeal basis, rather than saying, how could we bring more efficiency into our health care system? How can we make sure we're getting better value for all the dollars we're spending and make sure that consumers actually have control over those choices? That seems to me a very different direction than this picking winners and losers.

BREWER: The senator we were just hearing from, Max Baucus [D-MT], who happens to be the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he's considering limits on the tax-free status of the health insurance you get at work. In other words, perhaps it should be that if you get health insurance, whatever your company pays for that, you're taxed on that like you would be on income. Do you think that's a good idea?

TURNER: Well, there's a lot of evidence and a huge amount of research that shows that the way we currently provide health insurance -- by allowing any amount of health insurance that your employer provides for you to be completely free of taxes -- has encouraged people to take more of their compensation in the form of health insurance. That actually suppresses wages and take-home pay. So maybe putting a cap on that -- saying that if your employer provides you with $15,000 a year in health insurance for you and your family -- maybe that's all that should be exempt from taxes, and anything above that could be taxed.

Apparently there was unanimous agreement on the health panel that spoke before the Senate Finance Committee today that that would be a good idea to begin to bring some rationality to really cap this open-ended tax break --

BREWER: Yeah. Let me just ask you --

TURNER: -- and use some of that money to help people get health insurance.

BREWER: We have just 30 seconds left or so. So if you were going to advise the president and Congress on the best ways to create efficiency -- which I know that's, like, the key word -- but how does that really happen? And if it was so important, then why hasn't it happened already?

TURNER: Well, it actually is happening, but it's not something politicians can take credit for. When you look at companies that are really structuring their benefit packages to engage employees as partners in managing their health care costs and spending, they're the ones who have been able to hold their health care expenditures down more than companies that simply give employees a blank check.

BREWER: Well, something --

TURNER: So engaging consumers is crucial.

BREWER: Something has got to be done, though, broadly --

TURNER: Absolutely.

BREWER: -- and more specifically for the government. I just have been handed a note here that the U.S. Treasury says the Medicare trust fund is going to become insolvent in 2017 --

TURNER: That's right.

BREWER: -- now versus 2019, so they've lowered that date where they're expecting it not to have any money left. We'll have to see whether Congress can get this together and do something about it. Thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

TURNER: Thank you so much.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Contessa Brewer
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