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ABC's Johnson Insists: 'Public Option or Regulation, the Government Has to Play a Role'

"It is possible to have a very good health insurance system without a public option," ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson acceded on Tuesday's World News in the wake of the Senate Finance Committee's bi-partisan rejection of the liberal quest, but without it we must follow Switzerland and Germany which have "no public option" yet impose "very heavy government regulation" on the health insurance industry. "One way or another, public option or regulation, the government has to play a role," Johnson, who in March declared it a "national shame" that the U.S. lacks universal coverage, maintained.

ABC anchor Charles Gibson actually issued a liberal tag in setting up the segment on "a set-back today for the President and liberal Democrats." Gibson relayed how "the President says we need this public option to keep insurance costs in line. Now with that gone," he fretted in accepting the view of public option advocates, "do we face escalating insurance costs?"

Gibson followed up on the same theme, reminding Johnson how he's said that "to have true health care reform, you have to have measures in this bill that are going to keep health care costs in line, or bring them down. And the President has talked a lot about that. But one by one, are these getting taken out of the bill?"

From the Tuesday, September 29 World News on ABC:

CHARLES GIBSON: And on health care, a set-back today for the President and liberal Democrats. Two versions of the public insurance option, which the President supports, were voted down by the key Senate committee writing the bill. The outlines of what will be in the bill are becoming more and more clear, and our chief medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson, is joining us now. Tim, the President says we need this public option to keep insurance costs in line. Now with that gone, do we face escalating insurance costs?

DR. TIM JOHNSON: Well I think we face that no matter what happens. It is possible to have a very good health insurance system without a public option. There are two countries that come immediately to mind, similar to us, in their outlook. Both Switzerland and Germany have a vibrant private health insurance system, no public option. But - and this is a huge but - very heavy government regulation of that private insurance industry. So, one way or another, public option or regulation, the government has to play a role.

GIBSON: Tim, throughout this, you have said, and many others in Washington have said, to have true health care reform, you have to have measures in this bill that are going to keep health care costs in line, or bring them down. And the President has talked a lot about that. But one by one, are these getting taken out of the bill?

JOHNSON: It would seem that way. There are three things that everybody agrees you have to have to do health care reform. Access. We're doing that with insurance reform, increasing coverage, providing subsidies, getting rid of onerous ideas like pre-existing conditions. But the other two, improved quality and cost control, really require attacking the system itself. Changing the incentives - the way we pay hospitals and doctors, improving primary care, electronic records, comparative data that tells us what to pay for and what not to pay for. We don't seem to be paying as much attention those things as we do now to insurance reform.

GIBSON: So we could wind up with a bill that actually escalates costs rather than bring them down?

JOHNSON: It could. Charlie, I think of the analogy of a leaky bucket where we pour more water in, in terms of increased coverage, increased money to the insurance companies, without fixing the leaks. That's a formula for long-term cost disaster.

GIBSON: All right, Tim Johnson reporting from Washington. Thanks.

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center