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A Preview of ABC’s Health Care Special

John on June 23, 2009 at 8:55 am

Diane Sawyer was on CNN’s Reliable Sources the other day. She assured Howard Kurtz that the 3-hour special on ABC this Wednesday evening would not — I repeat NOT — be an infomercial for the Obama plan. She believes a Townhall style dialog (which this is) will give everyone a chance to share their views.

But if you want to see how this is really going to go, check out this “roundtable” Diane Sawyer did with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Director of Health Policy Reform Nancy Ann DeParle and Senior Policy Advisor Melanie Barnes.

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Credit to Sawyer for asking a couple tough questions out of the gate about the cost of reform and the risk of rationing, but look at the results. In response to the cost question, Sebelius offers a stock answer about reform being necessary to get costs under control. Of course this is disingenuous in several ways, a few of which I’ll ennumerate:

  1. Why is cost control linked to universal coverage?
  2. How will adding millions of people to the rolls reduce costs?
  3. Why should we believe government is the solution if the current government program (Medicare) is broke and quickly heading toward insolvency?
  4. Why is cost control linked to a “public option”?
  5. How will a government plan reduce costs if doctors aren’t forced to accept it?

On and on…Of course Diane Sawyer doesn’t ask any of these questions. Instead she moves on to the threat of rationing. Again, it’s a good question in theory, but look at the response. Nancy Ann DeParle shakes her head in irritation and says, essentially, that the President wants the best for everyone.

Well, great, I’m glad we’ve resolved the issue of rationing, which plagues every government-run system in the world, with that simple response. I’m being facetious of course, but the point is that, even if some good questions make their way in, there’s no follow up. So long as those answering the questions are allowed to skate away from them this easily, what’s the point?

Of course this is a Townhall forum which means Diane Sawyer won’t be the only one asking the questions. In past Townhall style forums, some prominent Democrats have been willing to plant questions in the audience in order to insure that their view carries the day. But even assuming that doesn’t happen, think about how this is set up.

A bunch of citizens with some street level health care experience (perhaps a doctor, a nurse or someone who works in medical insurance) will be set in a room with professional politicians who speak about this issue for a living. Naturally, given where Obama and Nancy Ann DeParle stand, they’ll be looking to spin favorably any question that supports their views and to beat down any question that doesn’t. Like this:

Hostile Q: Will this plan bankrupt the insurance industry?

A: No, that’s a rumor started by wealthy industry types who don’t like our plan. Our plan is all about choice and competition.

Sounds good. And of course there’s no follow-up or challenge to any of these claims. Easy as pie. On the other hand, they’ll also get questions like this:

Friendly Q: How can we get more people to use preventative medicine?

A: I’m glad you asked. The President’s plan, by giving insurance to all, makes it possible for everyone to get the care they need thereby reducing our reliance on expensive emergency medicine.

See how that works? This is an environment in which it’s all but impossible for the President to fail.

Meanwhile, ABC can claim they ran a “fair and balanced” special by pointing to some of the tough questions they asked, without noting that the insipid answers (offered without follow-up) were only coming from one perspective. What we won’t have in this forum are rebuttals from a position of equal or greater authority, questions that challenge the assumptions of the answer and most importantly, a sustained focus on how much this boondoggle is going to cost taxpayers. This is like shooting fish in a barrel. The only way the White House can lose is if someone creates a spectacular gaffe.

I’ll be watching the special Wedenesday, but based on what I’ve seen so far, this really does look like an infomercial for the President’s plan. Prove me wrong, ABC.

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Category: Health & Education |

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