ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson Sees Nothing But Upside in Government-run Health Care

Dr. Tim Johnson, ABC's medical editor and longtime fan of government-run health care, appeared on Monday's Good Morning America to tout the great benefits of passing congressional legislation. Restricting pre-existing conditions is a "real advance." Offering government grants to encourage people to stay healthy "will help a lot of people."

Glossing over costs, Johnson highlighted a provision to expand indefinitely COBRA unemployment benefits until the full bill kicks in 2013: "It's expensive, but at least [unemployed Americans] have something." After discussing the sunny up-side to the legislation, co-host Diane Sawyer wondered, "But the big changes, the mandates kicking in, that would be later on?"

Johnson casually responded, "...Mandates, the insurance exchange, the public option, if it survives in the Senate, all those truly major rock bottom changes we got about three years before they're in." What effect would they have? Johnson and Sawyer didn't discuss it. They also ignored possible rationing, tax increases and what the bill would do to the deficit. Considering the segment was entitled, "Health Care Overhaul: How Will Bill Affect Your Family," this doesn't seem very honest.

Sawyer did specifically say that the point of the piece was to examine what would occur as soon as the bill passed. But aren't long term ramifications crucially important?

Johnson has an extensive history of using his position at ABC to repeatedly lobby for universal health care, going all the way back to the Clinton plan of the early '90s. On September 24, 1993, he enthused, "I say the Clintons are almost heroes in my mind for finally facing up to the terrible problems we have with our current health care system and bringing it to the attention of the public....Most people, I think, will be better off."

More recently, on the June 15, 2009 World News, Johnson celebrated the "very tender moment" of President Barack Obama visiting the American Medical Association to lobby for congressional legislation. The ABC medical expert cooed that Obama "was right on target at reaching out to the heart of most physicians."

Given Johnson's history of aggressively lobbying for government control of health care, ABC should offer a conservative counter point to his liberal segments on GMA.

A transcript of the November 9 segment, which aired at 7:10am EDT, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: Well, if the President gets his wish and a bill by the end of the year or the beginning of next year, we had a simple question, what changes first in the lives of ordinary Americans? And for that we bring in ABC News chief medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson. Simple question. Get the calendar out and show us according to these bills what will change first.

ABC GRAPHIC: Health Care Overhaul: How Will Bill Affect Your Family?

TIM JOHNSON: All right. If we take a look at right after the first of the year or whenever the bill is signed right away there are going to be new limits on pre-existing condition, reduce the window from six months to 30 days where insurance companies can look for pre-existing conditions. By 2013, they'll be all gone. But at least this is, a step in the right direction. They also allow parents, if they choose, to keep their insurance on their kids until they're 27 years old-

SAWYER: Twenty seven.

JOHNSON: -which is a big advance because it gets rid of that window where kids often fall through the cracks between graduating from college and finding a job with benefits. Another thing that is going to happen right away is to allow people who are losing their jobs to extend COBRA indefinitely until the full bill is passed in 2013. Now there's a limit, I think, of 18 months, varies from state to state a little bit. But, that'll help people who lose their jobs. It's expensive, but at least they'll have something.

SAWYER: Right. For a couple of years. Now, for the elderly, there is talk of closing right away this window in which you have to pay more for prescription drugs.

JOHNSON: The infamous doughnut. Yes. They're going to start closing it. They're going to reduce it by $50 initially, keep closing it until it's completely closed by the end of the decade. They will also allow people to buy brand name drugs at a 50 percent discount so help to seniors right away.

SAWYER: Other changes in July.

JOHNSON: Well, here's one, of course, that just really irritates people when they have insurance then they get sick and their insurance wants to drop them because they're sick when they most need it. That will be prohibited, supposedly, started July 1 of next year. So that's a real advance.

SAWYER: And these grants for wellness programs have also kick in. What kind of thing is that? Companies will also have to do that?

JOHNSON: That's mostly for small companies. Big companies often do it but the small companies need the money. They're going to get the grants for prevention, fitness, et cetera. That will help a lot of people.

SAWYER: So, these are the things that would happen in the first year?

JOHNSON: In the first year.

SAWYER: But the big changes, the mandates kicking in, that would be later on?

JOHNSON: All the stuff Jonathan talked about, mandates, the insurance exchange, the public option, if it survives in the Senate, all those truly major rock bottom changes we got about three years before they're in.

SAWYER: All right. Well, at least we can fathom the first year after a bill is passed.

JOHNSON: We can. And it's something.