Frontline’s “Obama’s Deal” doesn’t explain what HMOs fear most

I watched PBS’ “Frontline” called “Obama’s Deal” which attempts to explain the behind-the-scenes machinations that produced an HMO-written American health care plan which essentially forces Americans to purchase a health care insurance package from an HMOs. But I didn’t see any clear examination of what the HMOs were fighting against. Frontline’s report mentioned a little about a “public option” (the details of which were unclear)—a government-funded health care plan. But I knew there was more to it than that.

HR676, Medicare for all, is a long-standing bill which would get the US a larger single-payer health care plan that would cut out the HMOs entirely. This bill is short and easily read in an afternoon. A clear explanation of what this bill says would help audiences understand more of the pressure the HMOs are facing.

Polls of the American people have long indicated what CBS and CNN’s polls indicated in 2007: Americans want universal health care even if it costs more in taxes to get it. A clear explanation of the implications of this for HMOs would have framed the debate around health care more clearly as well.

But Frontline viewers didn’t get any cogent explanations of either HR676 or poll results. Instead Frontline viewers got what commercially-sponsored media is designed to give—mischaracterizations that divert attention away from what its’ sponsors fear.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, M.D. was one of the protesters in Sen. Max Baucus’ hearings in which single-payer advocates were purposefully left out and HMO corporations were overrepresented. Dr. Flowers wrote an article about “Obama’s Deal” in which she explains how and why, as she says, “The producers at Frontline carefully cut single payer out of the film”:

When the host, Mr. Kirk, interviewed me for “Obama’s Deal,” we spoke extensively of the single payer movement and my arrest with other single payer advocates in the Senate Finance Committee last May. However, our action in Senate Finance was then misidentified as “those on the left” who led a “counterattack” because of “liberal outrage” at being excluded. This occurred despite an email exchange following the release of the preview in which I specifically requested that the producers identify that we are a nonpartisan group fighting for single payer: a health reform model based on evidence of what is effective here and abroad and on health policy principles. This mischaracterization unfortunately mirrors the way in which the health industry has portrayed the single payer movement (verified by Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive).

Dr. Margaret Flowers, M.D.

Update 2010-04-25: More on this from FAIR.