Something is Rotten at PBS

By Russell Mokhiber for Counter Punch

Last year, former Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid made a great documentary for the PBS show Frontline titled Sick Around the World.

Reid traveled to five countries that deliver health care for all – UK, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Taiwan – to learn about how they do it.

Reid found that the one thing these five countries had in common – none allowed for-profit health insurance companies to sell basic medical coverage.

Frontline then said to Reid – okay, we want you to go around the United States and make a companion documentary titled Sick Around the America.

So, Reid traveled around America, interviewing patients, doctors, and health insurance executives.

The documentary that resulted – Sick Around America – aired Monday night on PBS.

But even though Reid did the reporting for the film, he was cut out of the film when it aired this week.

And the film didn’t present Reid’s bottom line for health care reform – don’t let health insurance companies profit from selling basic health insurance.

They can sell for-profit insurance for extras – breast enlargements, botox, hair transplants.

But not for the basic health needs of the American people.

Instead, the film that aired Monday pushed the view that Americans be required to purchase health insurance from for-profit companies.

And the film had a deceptive segment that totally got wrong the lesson of Reid’s previous documentary – Sick Around the World.

During that segment, about halfway through Sick Around America, the moderator introduces Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the lead health insurance lobby in the United States.

Moderator: Other developed countries guarantee coverage for everyone. We asked Karen Ignagni why it can’t work here.

Karen Ignagni: Well, it would work if we did what other countries do, which is have a mandate that everybody participate. And if everybody is in, it’s quite reasonable to ask our industry to do guarantee issue, to get everybody in. So, the answer to your question is we can, and the public here will have to agree to do what the public in other countries have done, which is a consensus that everybody should be in.

Moderator: That’s what other developed countries do. They make insurers cover everyone, and they make all citizens buy insurance. And the poor are subsidized.

But the hard reality, as presented by Reid in Sick Around the World, is quite different than Ignagni and the moderator claim.

Other countries do not require citizens buy health insurance from for-profit health insurance companies – the kind that Karen Ignagni represents.

In some countries like Germany and Japan, citizens are required to buy health insurance, but from non-profit, heavily regulated insurance companies.

And other countries, like the UK and Canada, don’t require citizens to buy insurance. Instead, citizens are covered as a birthright – by a single government payer in Canada, or by a national health system in the UK.

The producers of the Frontline piece had a point of view – they wanted to keep the for-profit health insurance companies in the game.

TR Reid wants them out.

“We spent months shooting that film,” Reid explains. “I was the correspondent. We did our last interview on January 6. The producers went to Boston and made the documentary. About late February I saw it for the first time. And I told them I disagreed with it. They listened to me, but they didn’t want to change it.”

Reid has a book coming out this summer titled The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care (Penguin Press, August 2009.)

“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.

It might be perfectly reasonable for people to disagree about health policy.

But it’s not perfectly reasonable to mislead the American people on national television in the middle of a health care crises when Congress is shaping legislation that will mean life or death for the for-profit health insurance industry.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter.


  1. Cheryl Emmons on April 3, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Reid should sue. I feel that this was altered in such a way that it presented a gross misrepresentation of his ideas.

    Also Karen Ignagni’s statement was so misleading as to be almost an outright lie. There is a huge difference between being included in a public health care program and being forced to buy private insurance from a for-profit company.

    I thought public television was supposed to be “public”. Have they also been bought by corporate interests as most of the rest of our media options have?

  2. Kirti V.Sheth, MD on April 3, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    PBS must do documentary on U.S Medicare, Canadian Healthcare and Taiwan segment from Sick Around the world. Tom Reid must be given free hand in producing new documentary. Why Canadian healthcare? It is exactly like our Medicare. If Government forces citizen to buy or pay tax for healthcare coverage it is known as Socialism but forcing citizen to buy Private for profit health insurance is known as support your Capitalism and CEO profit and perks. They deserves it.
    This is possible in only in America, because we are living in their own world. PBS has a responsibility to present facts on Healthcare system of the world and how our healthcare has robbed dignity of law abiding citizens and made them bagger. This is national disgrace for richest nation in the world.

    This is possible only in America where majority of Americans can not add 1+ 1 = 2. Once they know how to then none of the present Congressman and senators will see Washington again.

    • Eliza Jane Dodd on April 7, 2009 at 12:24 am

      Yes! I agree with you .I find this story about PBS amazing because a few months back I e-mailed them and asked why Diane Ream or someone else does not talk about HR676 ? I insisted to get a answer and I got none .Diane had people on talking about Health care right now in America and nobody mention HR676 Universal Health Care at all ! And I wanted to know why and I asked and sent PBS copies of HR676 and tons of stuff and ya know what ???I never heard back from PBS or Diane Ream …How do you like that ? I even told them all my health care nightmares in detail …lol…and I never ever got anything back …So they are ignoring us and maybe it is our own GOV. that is telling PBS to ignore us and every one else .99% of HR676 that I post is Deleted where I post and there are lots of places I post ..We need a massive movement to get HR676 a PAPER PETITION Handed to President Obama …someone needs to look up the law about a Petition like that .Just like they take the Census…it can be done ….What’s it gonna take to get Americans Health Care ?

  3. Terry Brauer on April 4, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Disappointed? Disillusioned? Meet Bill Black. Watch his discussion. Should be abundantly clear that if the folks driving the healthcare deform parade are as greedy and incompetent as those who drove the mortgage markets for many years, we are in graver trouble than we know.

    • Eliza Jane Dodd on April 7, 2009 at 12:42 am

      They are worse , I had BCBS @17 years @$7,500 a year .I used it the 17th year I had cancer and my dr. gave me Vioxx ..he got a Vacation and a bonus from the makers of Vioxx Merrik .All on World news tonight …awhile back ..I had to fight to get the cancer removed .And then I was dropped …total operation out patient …was under $4 grand ..everything ..And look at all those years I never used it ..and how much money I could of had …If I had things to do over in life …I would of put my money in the bank and prayed I never got sick and if I did I had the money and I could of went to FRANCE ! And had smarter Doctors !

  4. TMP on April 4, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Yes, it’s the same greedy, entitlement mindset that has ruined our manufacturing and financial based that is thriving in the U.S. for profit medical industry.

    I laughed at Ignani’s comment and was surprised she admitted she’s uninsurable (due to asthma) if she had to buy insurance in the individual market. Having worked for several healthcare companies, I can attest to the “let them die” mentality.

    Taking profit OUT healthcare is the only way to assure affordability and access for all. That doesn’t mean everyone gets every procedure. Study after study proves we spend more of our healthcare dollars on the dying who cannot be saved, then we do on those who can be helped.

    Finally most Americans and Big Business agree the current system is wrong and must be CHANGED. Let’s no let this opportunity die as have other attempts at healthcare reform.

  5. care4all on April 4, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    How disappointing! PBS selling out . . .

    You can comment on the show here, though they are moderating the comments and many are not posted. They say two weeks after the show has aired, they will post all comments:

    Additional comments here:

  6. beverly on April 6, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Public TV and radio are scant better than mainstream media. They parrot the corporment (govt + corporate) line and lies with a few token facts and dissenting opinions thrown in every now and then.

    As I discovered independent media such as,,, Link TV, and I learned quickly the shortcomings of public radio/TV. Now, what few donation dollars I can spare go to independent media not PBS and NPR.