TV REVIEW : 'Health Care Gamble' Ignores Part of the Story

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is there a TV doctor in the house?

The "Frontline" and "Health Quarterly" co-production on the anatomy of Bill Clinton's health care plan, "The Health Care Gamble" (at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28; 8 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24; 7 p.m. on KPBS-TV Channel 15) could have cleared away a lot of nettlesome questions regarding the plan and what it may look like. Instead, producer Noel Buckner's and Rob Whittlesey's report spends so much time on campaigner Clinton's struggle to find a coherent health policy message that it squeezes out time to fully air the current debate over health care priorities.

Which is, ironically, what Clinton's health care task force, often working behind closed doors, has been accused of in neglecting public debate. Those following health policy developments know that the task force has explored the two dominant health care reform ideas--managed competition and single-payer--but only those closely following these developments understand the intents and differences between these two approaches.

Worse than neglecting to define for the viewer either plan, "The Health Care Gamble" neglects one plan for the other. Whereas we enter the inner sanctum of health care expert Paul Ellwood's Jackson Hole, Wyo., lodge, where health industry officials have been brainstorming on managed competition ideas for some time (and have probably had a strong influence on the health care task force), the single-payer plan and its advocates are given cursory reference here.

Clinton groped his way through the health care jungle during the '92 primaries, drifting from the generalities of "a national plan" through various models until he and his staff discovered managed competition, with a government-imposed price cap to guarantee that the currently uninsured can obtain coverage.

How does this compare to the single-payer plan? We still don't know, because Buckner and Whittlesey never speak to the task force leader, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who could have provided an answer.

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