Musgrave Holds Congressional Hearing; Local Media Starry-Eyed

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave held a hearing in Loveland yesterday to take public comment on health care reform. Today, The Coloradan published Hearing gives Musgrave input on health-care concerns that provides the usual run-down of who was there, what was said, and criticism by political opponents. A similar article was printed in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Not only was there a larger story that was completely missed but the articles perpetuated myths about health care access with nary a whimper of fact-checking.

Rep. Musgrave chairs the U.S. House Subcommittee on Workforce, Empowerment and Government Programs. During her year-long tenure as subcommittee chair she has conducted only one hearing on health care issues for small business.

That hearing – Healthcare and Small Business: Proposals That Will Help Lower Costs and Cover the Uninsured – was held on April 27, 2006 in Washington, DC and included testimony only from proponents of the Bush Administration’s plan to promote Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), tax write-offs for small business, and malpractice litigation award caps. The “fact-finding” hearing was limited to business association lobbyists, a coalition of bankers and firms that stand to make billions of dollars on HSA management, and the chairman of the American Medical Association.

Likewise, the Loveland hearing was limited to small business owners who are not providing health benefits to their employees, an insurance agent who supports HSAs, and a doctor advocating for malpractice reform. Nearly all the comments duplicated the testimony at the April hearing in Washington and again espouse The White House’s proposal. Nancy Billica, who heads Health Care for All Colorado, an educational and research non-profit organization on health care reform, was not invited to attend the local hearing as a witness. “I didn’t even know anything about it,” said Billica.

Advancing Myths
One of the most egregious problem in both articles’ coverage of the hearing was the lack of critical analysis on Health Savings Accounts which have been thoroughly debunked as a panacea for improving health care access.

The non-partisan Center of Budget and Policy Priorities has written extensively about HSAs. The Center contends that HSAs would actually increase the number of uninsured Americans, now estimated at 46 million, and drive up the price of insurance by splitting the risk pool into wealthy-healthy and poor-unhealthy individuals. The proposed tax breaks would also go to wealthier families who need the least help paying for health insurance. And, as always, offering federal tax shelters without off-setting the lost revenue means higher budget deficits.

Yet, none of those issues were raised at all in the local media coverage.

The Backstory
Health Savings Accounts are tax-favorable savings accounts for individuals with high-deductible health insurance policies that can be withdrawn to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, such as co-payments or uncovered services.

Critics of HSAs and the current proposal to increase both the tax benefits and amount of money which can be saved toward medical expenses point to numerous policy studies that state the accounts are completely ineffective for expanding health care access or lowering the cost of insurance premiums – the two biggest problems faced by Americans in getting medical care.

Instead, HSAs have been described as boon to the banking and financial sector which holds and invests the savings accounts for their own profit. Even by one of their own lobbyists.

Dan Perrin, the publisher of H.S.A. Insider and executive director of the H.S.A. Coalition, a lobbying group backed by 70 small-business and medical industry groups as well as the American Bankers Association, and one of the witnesses in the April Capitol Hill hearing, was quoted by The New York Times in a January 27, 2006 article:

Billions of dollars that used to be written in the form of checks with insurance companies’ names on them will instead go to credit unions, banks, and long-term investment houses. You know America: you see a financial opportunity and it sets off a gold rush.