Thursday May 23, 2002 Media Research Center article
- CNN's health care expert: Actress Laura Dern, star of a liberal-crusading movie, about the awfulness of "unregulated" HMOs and "the human cost of the health care industry's shift to managed care," set to air this weekend on Showtime.
HMOs are hardly without fault, but a segment last week on CNN's Inside Politics was skewed in favor of those who see more government regulation as the answer to perceived problems as the show brought aboard an actress with an axe to grind and treated her as an expert while holding an HMO representative to a tougher standard.
Interviewing both Dern and the doctor on which her role is based, Inside Politics anchor Judy Woodruff posed a series of softball questions. She prompted the doctor to confirm the movie's accuracy. Then to Laura Dern, she queried: "Why did you do this movie?" Woodruff also treated Dern as a health care expert: "You said you had your own individual experience with the managed care industry. What do you believe the solution is here?" Then she again prompted the doctor: "What would you add to that, in terms of what solutions are needed?"
CNN's health care expert: Actress Laura Dern, who got a platform to promote her Showtime movie on the evils of "unregulated" HMO's
Even Dern's claim that people are being "killed" by HMOs did not raise an eyebrow with Woodruff who moved on to another puffball question.
But Woodruff didn't kiss-up so much to a representative of the HMO industry. Woodruff insisted that she deal with the specific case highlighted by the movie and Woodruff demanded: "Is there adequate separation between the corporate bottom line, the need to make a profit in these companies on the one hand, and on the other hand the interests of the patients?"
Woodruff set up the May 15 segment, based on the CNN transcript checked against the tape by MRC analyst Ken Shepherd: "Now, questions about Damaged Care. That is the title of a film that airs on a cable network Showtime later this month. Actress Laura Dern stars in the true life story of Dr. Linda Peeno, who became an advocate for patients who did not get adequate health care or insurance money. In the film, Dern's character takes on the HMOs."
CNN played a clip of Laura Dern as Linda Peeno testifying before a congressional-looking committee: "We have enough experience from history to demonstrate the consequences of secretive, unregulated systems that go awry. One can only wonder how much pain, suffering and death will we have before we have the courage to change our course."
Woodruff asked: "Laura Dern, why did you do this movie?"
Dern replied: "I have my own individual experience with the managed care industry, and the more I've learned and the more I've talked to others about this issue, the more I realize that we all do. Now having done the film I realized that there was really only one question to ask, which is, 'do we care?' And the managed care industry seems to answer with a resounding 'no' to date, saying we are managing money, not care for patients, and that's the travesty and that is why I wanted to be involved."
Woodruff turned to the real-life doctor: "Dr. Peeno, at one point in this film, you are playing the role of a doctor -- of someone working at an HMO who has to reject a patient's request for a heart transplant. The patient dies later. Is this tracking what happened in real life?"
Peeno, a former HMO medical director, confirmed: "Yes, it is, actually. I was a medical reviewer and the request came for a heart transplant, and of course all the pressure is to limit and deny expensive procedures, and a heart transplant is very expensive and so the pressure was placed upon me to figure out a way to not pay for it."
Woodruff refused to challenge her: "So is that, do you believe -- does the movie give, do you believe, an accurate portrayal overall of the HMO industry?"
Peeno agreed: "Yes, I mean, I think that we've evolved a managed care system that succeeds financially only to the extent that it limits and denies care rather than making care available appropriately, quality care especially...."
Woodruff prompted Dern: "Laura Dern, you mentioned earlier, you said you had your own individual experience with the managed care industry. What do you believe the solution is here?"
Dern asserted: "Well, clearly, as we've learned, the money is there, because the money is going toward bonuses, high salaries, and I think first of all, individuals need to be told when they're signing up and spending their hard-earned money every month, that at the end of the day when they need care, they may not receive it. And there may be someone 3,000 miles away who doesn't know about their specific circumstance who will be denying their care. And I think that of course Dr. Peeno can address how we can make changes in a new patient bill of rights to support better health care. And I just want to add too that the individuals who seemingly are in opposition of this, that there shouldn't be an argument. We should all be working together saying this is a systemic problem. People are being hurt and even killed. How do we make it better?"
Unfazed by Dern's claim that people are being "killed" by HMOs, Woodruff inquired: "Dr. Peeno, what would you add to that, in terms of what solutions are needed?"
Peeno advocated more government control: "I think we are going to need a fundamental change in the way in which we think about medical care, and we've got to get back to something that is patient-centered rather than profit-centered...."
Next, Woodruff offered "a competing view on HMOs and the overall health care debate" by interviewing Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of the American Association of Health Plans.
Woodruff told Ignagni: "Pretty much a sweeping indictment of the managed care industry here."
Ignagni replied with a pre-planned soundbite: "I was really thinking about how to respond to where we are right now, and I think the best way to put it as I was listening to Ms. Dern and Dr. Peeno is to the extent that JFK the movie told us about the Kennedy assassination, this movie tells us about health care in America..."
Ignagni added: "So I think we're talking about a hatchet job with a political agenda, and I think it's time to have a real debate. I do believe Ms. Dern is right in calling for a real debate, but I think the prescription is not to wipe the slate clean and go to a government-run system which seems to be the end game here for folks who are promoting this film."
Woodruff brought Ignagni back to the movie's agenda: "Well, this one instance that I asked Dr. Peeno about, and she says this is what happened and when she worked for a managed care company, when she had to, she said, deny the request for a heart transplant. The patient later died. Are you suggesting that there's information to suggest that's not what happened or-"
Ignagni jumped in: "Let me say I have not seen the movie, but I appreciate the question and I think that this really brings us back to the nub of the issue. We have a situation in this case, as I've been told and as I've understand it -- it was 1987. The employer involved did not provide experimental treatment, did not cover experimental treatment in its benefit package...."
After Ignagni insisted coverage reviews are done by experts, Woodruff fired back: "I think what patients want to know is, is there adequate separation between the corporate bottom line, the need to make a profit in these companies on the one hand, and on the other hand the interests of the patients?"
Ignagni suggested: "The editors of newspapers tell me what doesn't sell magazines or newspapers in fact are the millions of lives that we have saved every day..."
One doubts that Woodruff would ever treat an actor who played a journalist as an expert on the malfeasance of journalists.
From the Showtime Web site, the synopsis for their movie, Damaged Care:
"Dr. Linda Peeno (Laura Dern) has put her medical career on hold to raise her kids while her husband Doug (James LeGros) builds his OB-GYN practice, but now she's eager to return to work. At first happy to land a job working for a lucrative HMO, Dr. Peeno soon discovers the dangerous, unethical side of the business. When she quits in order to speak out about the human cost of the health care industry's shift to managed care, she finds that she may be jeopardizing her future. Adam Arkin and Diane Ladd co-star in this fact-based drama."
Oh, and back to the CNN promotional segment in the guise of a news interview: So much for the claim that corporate interests drive news agenda decisions. Viacom-owned Showtime, part of the Viacom/CBS/UPN/Infinity empire, is the major competitor to HBO which is owned by CNN parent AOL Time Warner. -- Brent Baker