Posted on April 3, 2009

FRONTLINE's "Sick Around America"


Sick Around America

March 31, 2009

Investigating the stories of Americans whose lives have become a quest to find and keep health insurance…

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I am disappointed that this long-awaited special on healthcare did not address the single payer option. There were ample interviews with insurance company lobbyists but no discussion of this obvious choice. Our nation’s people are in crisis and the shameful greed displayed in other industries is replicated in the for profit hospital corporations, insurance companies and pharmceutical industries. We cannot afford profit in healthcare, as we will continue to have a chaotic, threadbare system riddled with donut holes and pitfalls for those who can least navigate: patients and their families. I’d like to see equal time — a Frontline on the single payer option.

Grace Gifford
Conway, SC

FRONTLINE’s editors respond:

Many viewers have written criticizing this report for not looking at solutions, in particular, a single payer system. Certainly, the topic is another important piece of any examination into the health care system and how it can be improved. And it would warrant a separate program of its own. We would like to point out that we did examine how the single payer system works in many European countries in our program last season, Sick Around the World. You can view this online.We believe that our report this week, Sick Around America, was equally of value in focusing on our current private health insurance system and showing how many Americans are only one or two events away from financial disaster or total ruin because they can’t afford this insurance, or because it offers inadequate coverage, or because it suddenly can be rescinded by the insurer for alleged omissions or errors. We also felt it important in this report to look at another major problem with the private insurance system: America’s for-profit medical system means that insurers have a fiscal duty to avoid risk and make profits for investors. Thus, insuring people who already have serious, chronic illnesses works against the interests of stockholders.

FRONTLINE: Sick Around America

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PNHP: “’Sick Around America’ disappoints” - selected responses‘sick-around-america’-disappoints/

Columbia Journalism Review: “Sick Around America” by Trudy Lieberman


By Don McCanne, MD

T.R. Reid had hosted FRONTLINE’s “Sick Around the World,” an important documentary describing successful health programs in several other nations that provide care for everyone at a fraction of the costs of our fragmented, inefficient health care system that leaves so many out.

We were looking forward to T.R. Reid’s sequel, “Sick Around America,” describing the problems with our private insurance system. Many of us were disappointed with the format of the program, believing that they missed a great opportunity to educate the nation on several health policies that would work well for all of us. Thus it was no surprise to us that T.R. Reid was not mentioned during the program, nor in the credits.

What happened? Reid left the show this February in a dispute with FRONTLINE. Trudy Lieberman of Columbia Journalism Review quotes Reid as saying, “When I saw it, I didn’t agree with it. It took a different view of health policy than I have.”

The program did use anecdotes effectively, demonstrating some of the problems with private insurance. Examples included medical underwriting, rescission, lapses in coverage, financial burdens due to underinsurance, and other deficiencies that most Americans now understand.

Watching this program, it is very clear that change is required. But the message for reform was outrageous. Throughout the program, many executives of the private insurance industry were featured, and they confirmed that these deficiencies were very real and needed to be addressed. That’s good. What was outrageous is that they were in no way contrite, but instead they implied that they would provide the leadership to make sure that private insurance will continue to manage the financing for health care in America, beginning with an individual mandate for every American to buy their lousy products.

We can only speculate on the motives of the producers. My opinion is that they wanted to provide support for the current efforts of the Democrats in Congress and in The White House to build reform based on private health plans. A publicly-administered and publicly-financed program would require a total restart on the reform process, and so it wasn’t offered as a potential solution. In deference to the insurance executives, the producers didn’t even promote a public Medicare-like option.

Remember, these insurance executives are not contrite. They can never provide the moral leadership that we need to create a health care system that serves all of us well.