CNN's Cho Gives One-Sided Look at Bush Health Plan

     CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien asked whether experts were giving a “thumbs up or thumbs down” to President Bush’s health care initiatives the morning after the State of the Union Address. But after a story featuring one thumbs-down expert, O’Brien threw in her opinion that it really “doesn’t sound like it’s that bold and that innovative.”

     Reporter Alina Cho said reaction to the plan – tax deductions aimed at making health insurance more affordable – “depends how you look at it and what side of the aisle you’re on,” but she failed to include a conservative or free-market advocate in her story. Indeed, Cho showcased just one policy expert who was cast as non-partisan even though she’s given thousands to Democrats in the past decade.

      “We watched the president’s speech last night with a health care expert, and together we broke it down point-by-point,” Cho told viewers of the January 24 “American Morning” as she introduced a story featuring Columbia University’s Sherry Glied, “who counseled both the first President Bush and President Clinton on health care.”

     Glied’s chief complaint was that Bush’s plan would do little to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. Cho failed to seek the perspectives of other health care policy experts and also ignored Glied’s political biases on the topic.

     According to the Federal Election Commission’s Web site, the Columbia University professor gave $2,550 to Democratic candidates for federal office in the past 8 years. The vast bulk of her donations, $2,300, went to Judy Feder, whose unsuccessful 2006 campaign challenged Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) as being captive to “the most powerful special interests in Washington” like “HMOs and Pharmaceutical companies,” according to Feder’s campaign Web site.  

     After Cho wrapped her story, anchor O’Brien mused that Bush’s plan “doesn’t sound like it’s that bold and that innovative” and that it was “a little bit of a drop in the bucket.”

     But conservative and libertarian experts in health insurance policy would disagree, noting that the president’s plan addresses a key reason why health care costs have been rising steadily.

      “Though economists on the left and right have been screaming it for decades, few politicians understand that the unlimited tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance does enormous damage to America's health care system,” noted Cato’s Michael F. Cannon.

     The current tax code “encourages Americans to consume more health care than they otherwise would,” Cannon argued in a January 23 New York Post column

      “Employer-provided health insurance isn’t taxed as income, so workers have an incentive to demand ever more generous health benefits. That’s one reason why Americans are so heavily insured. For every dollar we spend on health care, on average we pay only 14 cents directly,” the Cato director of health policy studies concluded.

     What’s more, argues another expert, the president’s plan will help both small businesses with tight profit margins and their employees, an angle to the story that Cho all but ignored.

     As it stands now, if small business employees “buy a policy, they have to do it with after-tax dollars. Since these tend to be lower-income workers, they are the ones who can least afford paying for coverage out of their own pockets,” noted Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar for the Institute for Policy Innovation.

      “The alternative to eliminating the tax break for health insurance is to give everyone the same tax break. That is what President Bush has chosen to do,” by giving the tax break to individuals and not just employers, Matthews added.