Bob Franken

August: Health Care Danger at Recess Time


It is time to deliver a warning about the month of August. Do not watch television. Unless you like watching ads designed to totally confuse you about health care reform.

Members of Congress will have left Washington and scattered to the winds. If they’re smart, they’ll go into hiding, avoiding constituents like the plague. Perhaps they should enter the Witless Protection Program.

Otherwise they’ll be hammered witless over the partially completed reform package they left behind at the Capitol. Every special interest group that can produce a deceptive commercial will do so. Their effort will be to pick all the bones off any package that’s coming together, at least the parts that take away their hard-earned financial advantage.

Call this the “Broadcast and Cable Stations Gift That Keeps on Giving.” Last year, the presidential campaign created artificial revenue highs for them. Now, thanks once again to Barack Obama, there will be new cash flow.

With all these commercials, even a PBS station’s fundraising will be less irritating to viewers. And that’s saying something. (In fact, maybe our leaders should consider a prohibition of those money-grubbing public television drives as a way to enhance the nation’s mental health, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Maybe, however, this will be a chance for conscientious citizens to study the various issues, relying on all the clear-cut information that will be readily available. (If you believe that, I have a health care policy to sell you.)

What they will get instead is a steady diet of distortion. By the time the kids return to school and the members of Congress slink back into Washington, any semblance of progress toward comprehensive reform will probably be stopped in its tracks.

Do not fear though. The House and Senate are like conferences in the NBA. What has happened up till now are simply the preliminaries. When September gets here, it’ll be time for the metaphorical playoffs, when the game at last will be decided after a few months. Most of it will be played out of sight. All we’ll see will be even more TV ads.

Finally, the end of the “season,” and August will be forgotten. That’s when we’ll know what form health care reform will take, or whether it will take any form at all. It is not a slam dunk. As the happy broadcasters and narrowcasters would say: “Stay tuned.”

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