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CNN Devotes Six Minutes to Health Care 'Rationing' Proponent

Plenty of people are worried about what a government health care plan may look like. Some of that fear is based on the possibility of rationed care.

President Obama has responded to so-called “scare” tactics by claiming that “insurance companies are rationing care.” That flawed argument was repeated on CNN’s “American Morning” Aug. 19 when co-host John Roberts interviewed Princeton professor Peter Singer.

The lengthy – six minute – segment featured only Roberts and Singer rationalizing the idea of rationed care. Roberts teased the beginning of the segment saying Singer “says rationing isn’t as scary as it sounds.”

At one point in the segment, Roberts asked why rationing is a “dirty word” in the health care debate when it already “goes on all the time in the corporate world, it goes on in our personal lives.”

The CNN anchor also quoted Sec. Kathleen Sebelius who said she “saw [rationing] on a regular basis by private insurers,” before asking Singer: “Is it not true that rationing is already taking place?”

“Oh, definitely. It is,” Singer replied. According to Singer, we also have rationed of care in the case of the uninsured (which he incorrectly cited as 45 million Americans), Medicare and Medicaid recipients because those people can’t get “everything” they want.

Singer admitted that the question is always “how do we most effectively use the money we have and the resources we have to improve people’s health.”

A Washington Times editorial on Aug. 18 criticized the claim that private insurers “ration” care: “There is no more rationing by private insurance companies than there is rationing at the grocery store. In a private system, consumers can buy more expensive health insurance plans if they want better benefits. Similarly, in a grocery store, if you want more food, you pay more money. There is no rationing in either case.”

Cato Institute’s director of health policy studies Michael Cannon warns that rationing is a bad thing and has said, “Expanding government health programs will hasten the day that government rations medical care to seniors.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page also addressed this problem on Aug. 14 and criticized the British health care system, which Singer praised on CNN.

“Virtually every European government with "universal" health care restricts access in one way or another to control costs, and it isn't pretty,” the Journal said. “The British system is most restrictive, using a black-box actuarial formula known as ‘quality-adjusted life years,’ or QALYs, that determines who can receive what care. If a treatment isn't deemed to be cost-effective for specific populations, particularly the elderly, the National Health Service simply doesn't pay for it.”

Singer told CNN that he wasn’t “talking about stopping people paying for whatever they can afford to pay for. Or paying for whatever extra insurance they can pay for,” but didn’t say that is what happens in Britain.

According to the Feb. 21, 2008 New York Times, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has been “wrestling” with the problem of patients “who want to pay for parts of their treatment.”

“One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment,” the Times wrote.

Hirst was then told by her doctor that wouldn’t be possible. If she paid for Avastin, she would have to pay for everything.