‘Sick Around America’ documentary slammed for pro-insurance slant

Two critical parts of a highly touted PBS documentary on the national health care crisis that aired Monday were curiously absent — any mention of single-payer insurance and the reporter, celebrated journalist T.R. Reid.

Now the Denver resident and recent House District 3 vacancy candidate is speaking out about his editorial spat with “Frontline” and why he demanded that his name be removed from the “Sick Around America” project.

CounterPunch.org reports that Reid, working on the sequel to the popular “Sick Around the World” documentary about global health care systems, concluded after viewing the edited version of “Sick Around America” that his reporting was being positioned to promote a controversial mandated health care insurance plan — a perspective Reid claims was counter to his findings.

“I said to them — mandating for-profit insurance is not the lesson from other countries in the world,” Reid said. “I said I’m not going to be in a film that contradicts my previous film and my book. They said — I had to be in the film because I was under contract. I insisted that I couldn’t be. And we parted ways.” “Doctors, hospitals, nurses, labs can all be for-profit,” Reid said. “But the payment system has to be non-profit. All the other countries have agreed on that. We are the only one that allows health insurance companies to make a profit. You can’t allow a profit to be made on the basic package of health insurance.” “I don’t think they deliberately got it wrong, but they got it wrong,” Reid said. Reid said that he now wants to make other documentaries, but not for Frontline.

“Frontline will never touch me a again – they are done with me,” Reid said.

Reid says that “it’s perfectly reasonable for people to disagree about health policy.” “We disagreed, and we parted ways,” Reid says.

Viewers yowled on the “Frontline” Web site about the lack of coverage on a popular single-payer health care option, causing the show’s producers to log on:

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.

The quarrel between Reid and “Frontline,” however, bears scrutiny beyond the voyeuristic pleasures of a television show production gone awry. Congress is now debating how to fix the broken health care system, and Americans are trying to get up to speed on a dizzying array of options. If you can’t trust the venerable PBS to provide the full story on a complex issue, who can you trust?

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Wendy Norris

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