Many of us depend on mainstream media like television and daily newspapers for our understanding of both women’s health issues and the key points of the health-reform debate. Many conscientious reporters and editors work hard to provide documented facts and thorough analyses; some television producers have also tried to offer discussions that illuminate the nature of the debate. Without them, our understanding of these very complicated issues would be much poorer.
The health industry’s special-interest groups have influence in Congress, and influence over the media. We need to know exactly how they are likely to shape decisively any new federal system, if and when it ever becomes law, despite what the people may want. We also need to know that the media are often careless about identifying whether invited spokespeople and “experts” represent special health-industry interests or special political interests rather than the public interest. Reporters sometimes quote study outcomes or results of polls without explaining how these were conducted or who paid for them. Conflicting poll results are sometimes ignored.
Among the media’s most pervasive biases, however, has been the failure to question the profit motive in health and medical care at all. They have failed to emphasize sufficiently how the health industries spectacular rise in PAC (political action committee—see “Reformspeak” box) donations will influence key members of Congress in coming debates and votes. Recipients of large PAC donations will be expected to favor these industries’ preferences and work against progressive legislation. (see PAC box)
In addition, the media do not advocate for the public and consumers to have a large and important decision-making and oversight role in such a massive change as national health reform. Media focus on the malpractice issue tends to be dominated by the viewpoint of physician groups, and distorted by a few reports of large jury awards. The media have also virtually ignored women’s central and unique place in the entire health- and medical-care system, women’s long history of activism and analysis in health reform, and their key stake in progressive change.1
The single-payer option (see “Reformspeak” box) for health reform is rarely mentioned in the news except as something we will not get, even though the government’s own fiscal management and budget experts have made it very clear that this system would save the most money for the urgent task of increasing access.2 Articles critical of the Canadian and other government sponsored systems abound.3 Well-packaged, well placed materials from the special interest groups are always available for reporters. Often media researchers don’t take time to follow up on the viewpoints of reform-movement groups working for the public interest. To learn about other views, the public has to consult public television and radio, and be on the lookout for literature other than daily newspapers and weekly news magazines.
Partly as a result of the media’s focus, many Americans have been persuaded to fear progressive reforms, believing they will lose access to “the best” of care.4 Hostility toward the older generation’s entitlement “privileges” and cost of care is also beginning to rise.5 Few even question why we cannot provide benefits for all ages, as other countries manage to do for so much less cost. We must challenge these assumptions. (See Box, “What One Woman Can Do About Health and Medical Reform”)
1. An extensive search of both the scientific and “lay” literature in Mid-1992 revealed almost no material connecting the idea “Women” with the idea “Health Reform.” Search conducted by librarian at the request of the author, Norma M. Swenson, at the Countway Medical Library in Boston, and by the same author at the Newton Public Library, spring 1992.
2. Robert Reischauer, testimony before the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, October 11, 1991. Also, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) produced similar estimates of savings.
3. Jennifer Brundin, “How the U.S. Press Covers the Canadian Health Care System.” International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 23, No. 2 (1993), pp.275-77.
4. Erik Eckholm, ” Those Who Pay Health Costs Think About Drawing Lines.” The New York Times, Mar. 28, 1993, pp. 1, 3.
5. Robert P. Hey, “Entitlements Under Fire, but No Big Changes Now.” AARP Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 11 (December 1992), pp. 1, 5.