Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: The Times examines the foreign experience--and produces an industry wet dream
Daily Howler logo
THE SWISS DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ PUBLIC OPTION! The Times examines the foreign experience—and produces an industry wet dream: // link // print // previous // next //

Taylor Branch, free of disease, breaks the law: Something important was said on Hardball last night.

How often do we get to type that?

Good God! Taylor Branch appeared on the clownish cable program to discuss his new book, The Clinton Tapes. At one point, he did the unthinkable:

Taylor Branch made an accurate statement about the Clinton/Gore era!

Normally, this sort of thing just isn’t done, due to strictures of Hard Pundit Law and the prevalence of Friedman Disease (see below). But last night, this is what Taylor Branch said, sitting right there on the set of Hardball. In this exchange, you see Chris Matthews play the fool—and you see Branch do the unthinkable:

BRANCH (10/1/09): [Bill Clinton] begrudged Bob Dole and Trent Lott and even Newt Gingrich much less than he complained about the press, because he idolized the press and to him political opposition—he said, “If I were on the other side, I would be doing the same thing.” And that’s what we talked about.

MATTHEWS: Why did he hate the press?

BRANCH: Because he felt that he looked up to the press and he thought they should be trying to do the agenda of the country. But instead they were falling in behind the Republicans, who were trying to do the tabloid stories.

MATTHEWS: Most people watching this show—I’m not talking about our show, because I have a tough sort of attitude. But they would say that the mainstream broadcast nets, ABC, NBC, CBS, are all sort of somewhat left of center, they would argue. Certainly conservatives would say they’re not lefty. They’re sort of establishment liberal. Why would he think that the liberal establishment, reflected in news people’s opinions, would be anti-Clinton?

BRANCH: That’s what—that’s what drove him nuts. But more specifically, the New York Times and the Washington Post drove the Whitewater scandals. And he had always looked up to them. And he thought they were sucked into some sort of tabloid nether-world that was detracting from his agenda for the country, which he—and his mission that he saw was to try to rescue the country from years of cynicism.

Matthews, cast in his usual role, played the consummate fool throughout. And Taylor Branch broke every known stricture of Hard Pundit Law in the process! Good lord! Right there on cable TV, the gentleman made an accurate statement about the Clinton/Gore era:

More specifically, the New York Times and the Washington Post drove the Whitewater scandals.

Fourteen words you’re not allowed to say on TV! Last night, Taylor Branch said them.

Just this week, we’ve seen the way the hacks, the wh*res and the purchased fellows function when discussing this era. In that very same New York Times, Thomas Friedman finally said that Whitewater was a “bogus ‘scandal,’” used by “the right” to “hound” Bill Clinton (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/30/09). He even put “scandal” inside scare quotes, letting us see how “bogus” Whitewater was! Of course, Friedman said nothing resembling that during the Clinton/Gore era, when it actually might have mattered. And in this week’s column, “Uncle Tom” was too dishonest to explain his change in stance.

But such is the heartbreak of Friedman Disease. Here’s how it’s defined in the medical texts: The inability to be truthful about the Clinton/Gore years.

This disease has always driven the press corps, including its mainstream and “career liberal” factions. It drove the press corps during that era; it has driven the press ever since. It has driven the Marshalls, the O’Donnells, the Olbermanns, the Corns—the Dionnes and, of course, the Gene Robinsons. Frankly, it has driven the Riches. And of course, the disease is contracted from small, slimy microbes which breed on the set of Hardball.

But uh-oh: Taylor Branch had never played Hardball before last night! He arrived on the set in good health.

This disease has always served the interests of the big rollers who have made a joke of your discourse—who began to consolidate their power during the Clinton/Gore era. From that day right up to this, a Hard Pundit Law has obtained, enforced from precincts on Nantucket: To get on Hardball, you had to contract Friedman Disease—to agree that you never would tell. And the weak little hustlers all caught the disease. Taylor Branch, arriving from outside the system, showed up last night in good health.

Go ahead—observe it again. You never see this on these programs. Taylor Branch made an accurate statement!

The New York Times and the Washington Post drove the Whitewater scandals.

Gene Lyons wrote the book on that matter—in 1996! But so what? The entire “career liberal” world—the O’Donnells; the Olbermanns; the Dionnes; the Joshes—ran off screaming into the woods. Given prevailing winds of change, they knew they mustn’t tattle or tell.

Many other things of interest occurred during last night’s session with Branch. (We’ll plan to review some of Matthews’ clowning next week—especially his claim that he’s “tough on everyone.”) But we strongly advise you to gaze on that statement, and ask yourself why your big heroes never say such things. More specifically:

Why was even David Corn clowning about Branch’s book last week? Might we repeat our deathless bromide?

You do live in an idiocracy when even the Corns start resembling the Dowds. But then, you’ve been denied the truth about these matters for many years now. Your liberal heroes all agreed: You, the rubes, must be played, all the way. Beyond that, fiery “liberals” agreed: Tens of millions of Americans voters must be denied the truth.

Last night, Taylor Branch broke the law. Like Friedman’s revelation this week, it comes very late in this game.

The Swiss don’t need no stinkin’ public option: Two key facts emerge from a review of the foreign experience in health care. Trust us, most Americans don’t understand these facts:

  • Other developed nations achieve health outcomes which equal or surpass our own—and they have universal coverage.

  • They do so while spending massively less, per person, than we spend in this country—only one-third to one-half as much.

Those are the (startling) facts which emerge from even a fleeting glance at the foreign experience. Let’s state those facts a little bit differently: It seems that American citizens are getting looted in their health care spending.

But go ahead! Read the New York Times’ detailed account of the Swiss health system, on the front page of yesterday’s paper. Nelson Schwartz does tell you, right up front, that Switzerland “guarantees health care for all its citizens” (has universal coverage). But does a reader ever learn that the Swiss do this while spending massively less, per person, than we spend in this country? By the time Schwartz gets through, he has given the impression that Swiss families spend as much as American families spend on their insurance premiums—and more in out of pocket expenses! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/1/09.) We know, that doesn’t seem to make sense—especially since the Swiss spend only 61 percent as much as we spend on a per person basis:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7290
Switzerland: $4417

On a per person basis, the Swiss spend 61 percent what we spend! But Schwartz doesn’t tell you that in his front-page report. And before long, he’s giving you the peculiar impression we have described above.

(For the record: That per-person spending makes Switzerland Europe’s second biggest spender, another fact Schwartz doesn’t mention. Europe’s larger nations don’t spend nearly as much as Switzerland does. Data below.)

In short, the most salient facts about the foreign experience largely disappear in this hapless report. Instead, Schwartz has written a front-page piece the insurance industry must have loved. Right from the headline on down, the hapless Schwartz and his hapless editor seem to be pimping the industry line. “Swiss Model for Health Care Thrives Without Public Option,” the headline said in our hard-copy Times. The Swiss don’t need no stinkin’ public option, this article says, from its headline on down. Indeed, the first four paragraphs of this report are an industry wet dream too:

SCHWARTZ (10/1/09): Like every other country in Europe, Switzerland guarantees health care for all its citizens. But the system here does not remotely resemble the model of bureaucratic, socialized medicine often cited by opponents of universal coverage in the United States.

Swiss private insurers are required to offer coverage to all citizens, regardless of age or medical history. And those people, in turn, are obligated to buy health insurance.

That is why many academics who have studied the Swiss health care system have pointed to this Alpine nation of about 7.5 million as a model that delivers much of what Washington is aiming to accomplish—without the contentious option of a government-run health insurance plan.

In Congress, the Senate Finance Committee is dealing with legislation proposed by its chairman, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, which would require nearly all Americans to buy health insurance, but stops short of the government-run insurance option that is still strongly supported by liberal Democrats.

There are no “bureaucrats” or “socialists” in the Swiss system—and no need for that stinkin’ public option! And not only that! Max Baucus has proposed legislation which doesn’t include “the contentious option of a government-run health insurance plan” either! The Swiss model thrives without the option, just as the headline says.

The Swiss don’t need no stinkin’ public option—and neither do we! That is this news report’s principle message, from its headline on down. Let’s be candid: If the insurance industry had written this article, it wouldn’t have had to change very much.

But what is wrong with this hapless report? Let us count the problems:

Strong regulation: The Swiss model may “thrive without a public option”—although the Swiss pay much more, per person, than larger European countries. But the Swiss can eschew a “public option” because they have strong regulation—strong regulation provided by “bureaucrats.” Schwartz even mentions, in paragraph 8, that the Swiss system “does keep down overall spending by regulating drug prices and fees for lab tests and medical devices.” And throughout the article, he does describe some of the strong regulations which control the system—regulations enforced by Swiss “bureaucrats”—without ever quite explaining that that’s what he’s describing. But his report strongly stresses the lack of a “public option” while vastly downplaying the strong regulation which make this possible. In a more intelligent report, the headline would have been longer:

HEADLINE, REVISED: Swiss Model for Health Care Thrives Without Public Option Thanks to Strong Regulation of Health Care Industry

The industry wouldn’t have written that headline—and Schwartz’s editor didn’t do so either. But in large part, that is because Schwartz himself produced such an unbalanced report. He vastly downplayed regulation—and the “bureaucrats” who enforce it.

Absence of profit: Schwartz downplays the Swiss system’s strong regulation. But he completely omits a second factor: In the Swiss system, health insurers are required to offer their basic plans on a non-profit basis. Incredibly, this central fact is totally missing from Schwartz’ 1400-word report. And it isn’t like Schwartz didn’t know this fact; on-line, Schwartz explains this fact in this short supplemental report. (“Under guidelines from the Swiss government, health insurers offer basic plans on a not-for-profit basis—although the companies can make a profit on supplemental coverage.”) But uh-oh! That short supplemental report didn’t appear in our hard-copy Times. The fact that Swiss insurance is done on a non-profit basis was absent from our newspaper altogether! Of course, the insurance industry wouldn’t likely have mentioned that outrageous prohibition either. Who wants to emulate that?

Degree of excess American spending: Trust us: Most Americans have no idea how extra we spend on health care. In large part, Americans are clueless about this syndrome because the news media have made a virtual science out of failing to tell them about it. In his report, Schwartz uses the OECD’s data for 2007, as do most writers on health care. Once again, for the ten millionth time, here are some of those basic, startling data:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007
United States: $7290
France: $3601
Germany: $3588
United Kingdom: $2992
Italy: $2686
Spain: $2671
Japan: $2581 (2006)

In a rational world, those are stunning data—but the mainstream press corps has made a science out of keeping them hidden from sight. So too with the hapless Schwartz. In his sixth paragraph, he does say that Switzerland “provides high-quality care at costs well below what the United States spends per person.” But how many readers know what that formulation means—that the Swiss spend only 61 percent as much as we do? And how many readers know that the Swiss are actually Europe’s big spenders—that they spend much more, per person, than Europe’s larger nations? Here’s your answer: Very few readers know that—and Schwartz doesn’t tell them. In typical fashion, he uses the OECD’s less approachable data when he does use actual numbers:

SCHWARTZ: These are among the reasons health care costs consume 10.8 percent of gross domestic product in Switzerland, compared with 16 percent in the United States, the highest level of spending among industrial countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Schwartz completes the hat trick here. He uses the impenetrable “percentage of GDP” statistic, rather than the more approachable “per person” spending figures. He tells us that the U.S. is the biggest spender in the industrial world, without telling us how enormous the excess in our spending actually is. And he compares American spending to that of the Swiss alone—without noting that the Swiss are Europe’s second biggest spenders.

Soon, he is telling us that the Swiss spend as much as we do for their premiums—and well more on out of pocket expenses! It would be hard to do a more thorough job of disguising the mammoth excess spending which drives the American system. Insurance hacks don’t talk about that. Neither did the Times.

This is a terrible news report. The New York Times finally attempted to discuss the foreign experience—and it wrote the type of report which the mother of an industry hustler would love. We don’t need no stinkin’ public option, the Times seems to be saying, right from its page-one headline down. Using the Swiss as the proof of this fact, Schwartz has disappeared all the factors the industry wouldn’t want you to see:

He disappears the strong regulation which makes the Swiss system function.

He disappears the fact that Swiss insurance companies work on a non-profit basis.

He disappears the massive difference between American and Swiss spending.

He disappears the fact that the Swiss are actually among Europe’s biggest spenders.

It would be hard to do a worse report—unless you work for the industry, in which case this piece was quite strong. One last point about that fourth paragraph:

SCHWARTZ: In Congress, the Senate Finance Committee is dealing with legislation proposed by its chairman, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, which would require nearly all Americans to buy health insurance, but stops short of the government-run insurance option that is still strongly supported by liberal Democrats.

Inspiring! But the Baucus proposal also “stops short” of the strong regulation and lack of profit which make the Swiss system function. These very basic, elementary facts are AWOL from this piece.

American citizens need to know the basic facts about our health care. We spend two to three times what comparable nations spend—large nations which get similar outcomes! In short, American citizens are getting looted.

Once again, the Times doesn’t tell.

They get letters: This morning, the Times prints an accurate letter about these very problems:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (10/2/09): The Swiss system for universal coverage is certainly intriguing, but there are two little caveats that will make it unappealing to our legislature: the insurance companies are to some extent nonprofit, and the drug prices are regulated. The Swiss system directly attacks what is wrong with the American health care system: profit.

D— N—
Elizaville, N.Y., Oct. 1, 2009

The know such things in Elizaville, but not at the Times itself.