And Now From the Heartland….

KOLN/KGIN tries to explain health care

You could say it wasn’t the greatest story, but, hey, a TV station taking a crack at health care is a pretty rare thing these days. Too bad that the story appearing on the station’s Web site was so obtuse that viewers were left scratching their heads wondering what it was all about. The occasion to tackle the subject was a forum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the state’s lame duck senator, Republican Chuck Hagel, and former senator and governor Bob Kerrey offered their views on reform.

The story started off noting that both Hagel and Kerrey said that “bipartisan health care reform would be the best approach to the present health care problem.” It went downhill from there. The statements and the quotes offered little context or explanation, and couldn’t help but leave viewers puzzled. Because health care is an American problem, Hagel said, it should be regulated by the federal government, not the states. OK, do viewers even know that health insurance is regulated by fifty state insurance departments? Most likely not. A word of explanation would have helped here.

KOLN/KGIN said that Kerrey backed the plan proposed by Barack Obama, which would provide what it called “government-sponsored health care to all Americans who want it,” which would work alongside existing employer-sponsored plans. Then came this line: “But skeptics say this plan supports socialism.” What skeptics? What socialism? The last I heard, the government wasn’t planning to nationalize private health insurers or do anything remotely close to what it just did to the banks. And Obama certainly hasn’t talked about a federal takeover. The reporter could have drawn a good analogy between Obama’s plan to provide subsidies to help poor people buy health insurance and what the government does to keep farmers afloat with price supports.

The last graph was really a doozy:

Both Kerrey and Hagel said a hybrid of Sen. Barack Obama’s and Sen. John McCain’s plans will work best to mend the broken health care system. They say Obama’s plan may be best as an immediate action, but that McCain’s plan may work best in the future.

What the heck does that mean? Aside from the brief explanation that Obama may be leading us down the path to socialism, the story gives no more details of his plan; nor does it give any details about McCain’s. So how can anyone understand what a hybrid might look like? Or, for that matter, how can they possibly know that Obama’s plan offers a short-term solution, and that McCain’s is better in the long run? Perhaps Hagel and Kerrey would like to explain that one; maybe their answers could be heard outside the limited viewing area of eastern Nebraska.

Perhaps all this explains a comment posted on the station’s Web site. “They don’t know any more than anyone else does and they certainly don’t have any answers and/or solutions.” The commenter was apparently taking his or her frustrations out on the pols, but it really was the station that fell down on the job of informing its audience.

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.