The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is heating up, and healthcare is a key issue up for debate. A number of high-profile candidates, including Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard and Elizabeth Warren, have endorsed a Medicare for All solution to America’s healthcare problem. However, the idea is most closely associated with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has made it a central platform of his election bid.
The United States spends around twice as much on healthcare as other high-income nations, with inferior results. Worse still, around 45 million Americans, 13.7 percent of the population, have no healthcare whatsoever. The Medicare for All plan, which aims to create a nationalized healthcare system like those employed by virtually every other high-income nation, is highly popular among the general public. In late 2018, polls from Reuters and Harris found that at least 70 percent of Americans supported the proposal—including majorities of Republicans.
However, corporate media appear to be almost univocally against the idea, with the flow of doom-mongering stories increasing to a roaring flood as the notion gains more traction among the public.
Ignoring the many opinion polls showing widespread and increasing support for the plan, CNN (4/24/19) suggests “most Americans” do not want Medicare for All. The New York Times(10/19/18) told us, “Don’t get too excited about Medicare for All.” Evincing no sympathy for the tens of millions without any healthcare, it invited us to feel instead for the private doctors who would face a “cut in revenue” if the progressive plan were implemented. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (8/21/18) described it as a “preposterous proposal,” while USA Today(9/20/17) claimed Bernie’s plan is “all wrong for America.”
Invited on NBC’s Meet the Press (2/10/19), Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet argued it was a self-defeating notion, claiming what Democrats are really saying to the 180 million people who have private healthcare “and like it” is that they are going to take their beloved private insurance away from them. (Left unmentioned was the fact that 28 percent of people with employer-sponsored health insurance change plans every 12 months.)
Many outlets have raised concern about the price of such a measure. Libertarian magazine Reason (11/13/18) claimed it would “cost too much,” while the Wall Street Journal(11/12/18) warned of “the false promise of Medicare for All,” with both arguing that it would slow down the development of new drugs. But a study from the libertarian Mercatus Center accidentally proved Sanders’ plan would actually save the country trillions, with private savings more than offsetting increased public costs. And economist and FAIR contributor Dean Baker found that more government involvement in the pharmaceutical industry would save money and speed up drug development.
Nevertheless, other media outlets have kept up the relentless flow of negativity, dismissing Medicare for All as “too fragile” (Yahoo!, 4/22/19), “politically impractical” (Atlantic, 3/18/19), “fool’s gold” (Fox News, 1/11/19), a “populist bromide” (National Review, 9/11/17) and a “singularly bad idea” (Forbes, 9/28/17).
Lines of Attack
Many different lines of attack have been used to dampen public enthusiasm for a social-democratic healthcare system based on human need rather than profit. The Hill (1/31/19) used the “this is how Trump wins” argument to warn voters, claiming that Medicare for All is a “terrible” idea championed by “young Bolsheviks” pushing the Democrats to the left, meaning “Donald Trump is looking like a sure winner in 2020.”
One of our favorite genres of stories at FAIR is the “inexplicable Republican best friend” (FAIR.org, 2/26/19), where conservatives offer supposedly good-faith advice on how Democrats must adopt all manner of right-wing positions in order to advance. Writing in the conservative Wall Street Journal(2/12/19), William Galston of the Brookings Institute warned liberals that “Medicare for All is a trap” that will “assure Trump’s re-election.”
Alternatively, Fox News employed the “I am a liberal, but” trope, in which self-styled liberals espouse conservative ideas, to warn readers that nationalized healthcare is a “pie-in-the-sky idea” (2/2/19), and to claim that Medicare for All would “put the government in charge of making decisions about your health” and your body (1/30/19).
A Conflict of Interests
Brookings is funded in part by private healthcare donations, from groups like HCA and United Healthcare, a dependency that highlights a serious conflict of interest that is endemic in corporate media reporting on healthcare (and, indeed, on any major economic or political issue). This system of interlocking and conflicting interests is rarely acknowledged by corporate media, who also rely on medical and pharmaceutical companies for funding through advertising and patronage.
In an article headlined “The Fallacy of Medicare for All,” for instance, Fortune magazine’s Bill George (4/24/19) simultaneously argued that hospitals would be “swamped” with another 189 million customers, and that “half of all hospitals” would be forced to close. George is a Goldman Sachs executive who was formerly CEO of the private medical corporation Medtronic, and also sat on the board of pharmaceutical giant Novartis.
More blatantly still, CNBC (4/16/19) allowed United Healthcare’s CEO David Wichmann to claim that Medicare for All would “destabilize the nation’s health system,” leading to a crisis and a “severe impact on the economy.” At no point did CNBC challenge him, or even mention the glaring conflict of interest Wichmann might have. Indeed, it bolstered his credibility, telling its readers that he “rarely discusses politics,” implying that this was an entirely good-faith warning.
Financial Media Meltdown
Despite the doom-mongering, public support for a publicly financed US healthcare system continues to increase, and the financial press has moved from concern to panic over the specter of free healthcare for all. Market Watch (4/23/19) gloomily noted that Medicare for All “looms large” over the industry, Forbes (4/19/19) described it as “unnerving investors,” while Bloomberg (4/16/19) reported that “health stocks are crumbling” as “fears” of Medicare for All are “snowballing.” CNBC’s Trading Nation (4/20/19) claimed that there could be more “pain ahead.” Medicare for All would “crush” us, said Mark Tepper, president and CEO of Strategic Wealth Partners—“us” meaning the for-profit healthcare industry.
Bloomberg (4/18/19) also warned that “there may be more pain to come” for the “vulnerable.” This was not referring to the pain of tens of millions of vulnerable Americans with no healthcare at all, but the “pain” of reduced profits for investors in “vulnerable” medical and pharmaceutical corporations, such as United Healthcare, Medtronic and Novartis. Perhaps this explains why there is such stiff opposition from their spokespeople in the media.
Despite all the concern trolling, reading the financial press highlights the fact that corporate media oppose Medicare for All not because of legitimate queries and concerns about its implementation, but because they are owned by investors with stakes in highly profitable medical and pharmaceutical companies—the very same companies that supply them with millions of dollars each year in advertising. With so many candidates endorsing Medicare for All, it seems the 2020 election will force America to decide between the pain of tens of millions without adequate healthcare and the pain of wealthy traders losing investment opportunities in the for-profit healthcare industry.
Alan MacLeod @AlanRMacLeod is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group. His latest book, Bad News From Venezuela: 20 Years of Fake News and Misreporting, was published by Routledge in April.