The lead story in the media should be how much Hillary Clinton is not telling us about her $110-billion-a-year health care plan.
The New York senator and Democratic presidential candidate isn’t answering any questions she doesn’t want to answer – like how to enforce a nationwide mandate for health insurance. And in coverage of her newly-announced health care plan, the media let Clinton’s vagueness go unchallenged.
“The Hillary Clinton health plan: too hot? Too cold? Or just right? We’ll check in with all sides in our ‘Reality Check.’”
That Goldilocks introduction came from CNN’s Heidi Collins on the September 18 “CNN Newsroom.” But for the story that followed, “all sides” consisted of Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and architect of that state’s individual health insurance mandate, and Linda Blumberg of the liberal Urban Institute.
CNN’s William Schneider closed out the Goldilocks story theme with the bedtime story of “choice” and the idea that Clinton’s plan was somehow moderate.
“But middle income Americans who felt threatened in 1994 are now being promised greater choice, including the choice to keep what they have,” Schneider said. “Critics on the right complain her plan goes too far. Critics on the left complain it doesn’t go far enough. The Clinton campaign says she feels perfectly comfortable in the middle.”
Media coverage of Clinton’s plan thus far has focused on how much the former First Lady has “learned” since her earlier attempt at nationwide health insurance in 1993-94. Now she is an older Hillary Clinton, with “the scars” to show her expertise, she told interviewers.
But in reality, it is the return of “HillaryCare” – a plan for massive government expansion and regulation, even though Clinton ironically promised in her announcement that there would be “no new bureaucracies.”
“It’s like one of the monsters in a grade-B slasher flick,” said Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, in a podcast. “No matter how many times you think it’s dead, it keeps rising up.”
Journalists turned to other presidential candidates as Clinton’s “critics,” leaving out representatives of the insurance, pharmaceutical and health care industries that would be affected by her sweeping government expansion. And Clinton got away with telling them only generalities of this mandate that would affect every American.
“This IS a big-government, bureaucratic solution to health care,” explained Tanner. “Essentially, this is a government takeover of the health care system.”
Nevertheless, the plan received good press even before it was released. The September 17 issue of Newsweek declared Clinton’s health care proposal “is expected to be bold, but hardly radical” and that was before the proposal was even public.
As Clinton made the rounds on four different morning shows – at the same time – September 18, journalists gave her an open platform to speak.
A mandate just like car insurance? According to data compiled by the Insurance Research Institute and the Employee Benefit Research Institute, at least 15 states and the District of Columbia have more people driving without auto insurance than they do people without health insurance.
Sawyer asked Clinton, “How would you enforce it?” Clinton did not answer, but instead talked around the question. Sawyer didn’t pursue it further.
John Roberts made another attempt on CNN’s “American Morning”: “how do you know that you’re not just going to develop and create here another huge entitlement that is going to grow at double-digit inflation?” Clinton assured him she had cost-cutting measures in mind, and touted her idea for electronic medical records.
Others in the media didn’t try as hard. Dr. Timothy Johnson, medical contributor for ABC “World News,” used his time on that show September 17 to defend government’s role in health care.
“In fact, the government programs that Hillary will offer … have a lot of private choice,” he said. So it’s not “socialized medicine”?
“They’re obviously using that word to scare people,” he said, and extolled Clinton’s ideas: “Every industrialized country in this world that is successful with health care – often more successful than we are – has a partnership between government and the private sector, and that’s what I think we have to have in this case.”
Johnson missed the irony in his statement that “The government has a role in providing guidelines – maybe regulations, but leaving free choice.”
Clinton’s plan would stringently regulate the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, while forcing everyone to buy health insurance. Her offer of “free choice” after all those government mandates includes a new government health insurance plan, which would be paid for by taxpayers – not exactly something taxpayers can opt out of.
The key to the media’s portrayal of her plan as moderate – which attempts to borrow from free-market language – is “managed competition,” Cato’s Tanner said. The plan would “leave insurance to be privately owned, but we’ll regulate it sort of like a public utility and let it exist in kind of an artificial marketplace.”
The result? It lets the government decide how much coverage is enough – how much each person is required to have – and “the government starts designing insurance policies,” Tanner said.
What Can I Buy with That?
Clinton said she would finance her $110-billion-per-year plan partly through tax hikes, also known as “rolling back” the tax cuts for the top two earnings brackets.
The Wall Street Journal, however, wasn’t convinced further tax hikes wouldn’t be needed: “That $110 billion is a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and Team Hillary is keeping the specifics in its pocket,” said a September 19 editorial.
How much is $110 billion? And how does that compare to the other top Democratic candidates’ plans? That amount of money works out to an extra $367 chipped in per year for every man, woman and child in the United States.
For starters, Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) plan is estimated between $50 billion and $65 billion. That’s about the same as the combined gross domestic product (GDP) of Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua, according to the CIA World Factbook.
To achieve Clinton’s $110 billion plan, take Obama’s (Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua) and add El Salvador and Belize. Her plan would cost the equivalent of five countries’ GDP – every year.
The upper end of John Edwards’ plan, which reportedly ranges from $90 billion to $125 billion, takes all those countries and adds Jamaica.
For some perspective on how the U.S. federal government stacks up to Clinton’s plan: at least six whole federal departments could fit inside that $110 billion, depending on which ones you select. Try adding together the Department of Education ($68 billion) + the Department of Energy ($22 billion) + the Environmental Protection Agency ($8.03 billion) + the Corps of Engineers ($7.77 billion) + the Executive Office of the President ($2.68 billion) + the Small Business Administration ($675 million). (Numbers according to the Office of Management and Budget for 2007, “Federal Government Outlays by Agency.”)
Researchers Stuart James and Genevieve Ebel contributed to this report.