Newspapers Flub Health Reform Stories

Health care is a vast, complicated subject, and the task of understanding the health care reform proposals being considered by the state’s 208 Commission is a daunting one. Just ask the local newspapers. Several Friday news stories about the newly released financial impacts of the proposals mangled the issue so thoroughly that the commission’s communications director, Edie Sonn, sent out an e-mail to news media correcting the “inaccurate or misleading” information in some of the coverage.

Specific media outlets were not mentioned, but it’s not difficult to find the offenders.

The Rocky Mountain News ran a story titled, “Commission Unveils Fifth Proposal”

continued…Sonn’s e-mail cautions:

“The Commission has not unveiled the 5th proposal.  At yesterday’s Commission meeting, members of the committee working on that proposal presented some preliminary ideas to the Commission and requested guidance about elements commissioners would like to see modeled.  The 5th proposal is still very much a work in progress, and none of the ideas are set in stone.”

Several news stories also inaccurately portrayed the costs of the proposals, most notably the single-payer proposal. An Associated Press story that ran in the Boulder Daily Camera bore the headline, “Cost to insure all Coloradans: $26 billion.” And the headline of a Colorado Springs Gazette story read, “Health Care for all could cost $26.6 billion.”

Sonn wrote in her e-mail to reporters, “The cost analysis of the 4 proposals is confusing, and the news stories about it reflect that confusion.  We sent you a press release yesterday explaining the costs of each proposal, and have attached it again here.”

Here’s what the press release says about the cost of the single-payer proposal:

Estimated to save $1.4 billion (from current combined public/private health spending of $30.1 billion)

Estimated $26.5 billion federal and state spending

What the news stories quoting the $26 billion number fail to explain is that while state spending would go way up, so would revenue, because consumers would be paying taxes to the state instead of premiums to insurance companies for their health care. Overall, spending on health care would go down $1.4 billion, according to the Lewin Group, the consulting firm that did the financial analysis.