Nets Compare America to 3rd World, Shocked Many Come for Free Health Care

All three broadcast networks this week have reported on the charity Remote Area Medical's offer of free medical care at a temporary facility in Los Angeles, citing the arrival of many patients as a sign of how many Americans there are who need "free health care," and even relaying the words of program volunteers who compared the health care challenges of some Americans to problems in Third World countries like Guatemala and India.

But only by watching ABC's Good Morning America did one see a soundbite of program founder Stan Brock informing viewers that the free clinic does not even screen patients to learn if they really are in need financially: "It's first-come, first-served basis, no questions asked, no financial information required."

Reporters seemed shocked that thousands of people would stand in line for hours to receive hundreds - or even thousands - of dollars worth of free medical care.

The NBC Nightly News has highlighted the free clinic twice this week.

[UPDATE: On Saturday, ABC's World News Saturday and the NBC Nightly News each ran a story touting the high number of patients arriving at a free clinic in Los Angeles, operated by Remote Area Medical, as evidence of the need for health care reform. For the NBC Nightly News, it was the third such story on the facility of the week. Full details here.]

On Tuesday, anchor Brian Williams announced:

And now we have an illustration of just how big the problem of affordable health care has become in this country. A group of doctors who started out providing free medical services in Third World countries has also been working in this country, and they've been seeing more Americans ask for their help than ever before.

On Thursday, substitute anchor Ann Curry revisited the story: "On Tuesday, we reported on a group of doctors offering free care at a health fair. And since then, the demand for their services has become even more overwhelming."

After correspondent Miguel Almaguer informed viewers that the program was founded to serve the Third World but has increasingly been providing care in the United States, he showed a soundbite of program founder Brock comparing what he has seen treating patients in America to Guatemala. Brock: "There really is no difference. This could be Guatemala. There is no difference."

Without informing viewers that the charity does not require patients to demonstrate financial need to receive service, Almaguer assumed that those showing up have no other options other than free medical care, and passed on predictions that people would continue showing up for free service for a month if the facility operated that long:

For the lucky ones who were treated today, the hopeful ones who will return tomorrow, and the volunteers who treat them all, these days at the L.A. Forum are a stark illustration that for many Americans, free health care is the only health care they can afford. This massive mobile hospital will remain anchored here at the L.A. Forum until Tuesday. But organizers say if they were here all month it probably still would not meet the need of this city alone.

Thursday's CBS Evening News made the program's offer of free health care the show's top story, as anchor Katie Couric described the scene as being "why many believe reform is desperately needed." After teasing the show by referring to the facility's patients as being "on the front lines" in the "battle over health care," Couric began the show:

Good evening, everyone. Once again, we begin tonight with a battle over health care reform, but this time, we're not starting at a town meeting. Tonight, we're going to show you why many believe reform is desperately needed. These are just some of the tens of thousands of Americans who need health care but have no insurance or not enough of it, and they're lining up at a free makeshift clinic in Los Angeles, a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Bill Whitaker begins our coverage.

Like NBC's Almaguer, after relaying that the charity was founded to serve the Third World, CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker passed on one volunteer's comparison of America's health care challenges to those she has seen in such impoverishd countries. A soundbite of Dr. Natalie Nevins was shown: "Here at home, we have as much a need as I do when I travel to the most remote areas of India, and that's very heartbreaking." For more on that story, see Kyle Drennen's August 14 BiasAlert.

CBS and ABC seemed to disagree on whether the people showing up were the uninsured, or people with insurance who still have trouble paying bills. CBS's Whitaker referred to patients as "Some 1,500 people a day, almost all working people who have insurance, but it's just not enough." But on Wednesday's Good Morning America, ABC anchor Robin Roberts suggested that participants are "uninsured." Roberts:

Now, we want to show you the faces behind the health care debate, uninsured Americans, more than 40 million in this country. Well, some of them are lining up this morning to get free medical care from a group of doctors and nurses who started out working in Third World countries and are now offering their services in Los Angeles...

It was during ABC correspondent Mike von Fremd's report that a soundbite was played of program founder Brock recounting that patients are not required to show financial need. Brock:

It's first-come, first-served basis, no questions asked, no financial information required. There are a lot of good programs in this country, but they tend to have hurdles that the patient has to leap through in order to get the care.

Below are transcripts of the key excerpts from the Tuesday, August 11, NBC Nightly News; the Wednesday, August 12, Good Morning America on ABC; and the Thursday, August 13, NBC Nightly News. You can read the August 13 CBS Evening News here:

#From the Tuesday, August 11, NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And now we have an illustration of just how big the problem of affordable health care has become in this country. A group of doctors who started out providing free medical services in Third World countries has also been working in this country, and they've been seeing more Americans ask for their help than ever before. NBC's Miguel Almaguer is with us from Los Angeles tonight with more on this. Miguel, good evening.

MIGUEL ALMAGUER: Good evening, Brian. A volunteer army of more than 800 people have been working the floors behind me since 4 a.m. They won't go home for several hours, and this is just day one. They streamed in by the hundreds, camping out overnight just for the chance to see a doctor. Many say they're hurting for health care. Some are literally in pain. Angel Rivera has a tooth problem. How desperate would you describe yourself to get some help?

ANGEL RIVERA: Desperate enough that I was going to take the damn thing out with a pair of pliers.

ALMAGUER: Well before dawn, just about every race and every age packed overflow bleachers. Only 1,500 can be seen today.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They already ran out of numbers.

ALMAGUER: Hundreds were turned away. It's first come, first serve for free health care here....Remote Area Medical, known as RAM, began working in developing countries back in 1985. Here at home, they focus on rural communities without medical services. But the need for free health care has become so dire in this country, for the first time ever RAM is making stops in major cities like Los Angeles. Stan Brock is the founder.

BROCK: The people that are coming to these events are simply those that don't have access or cannot afford the care they need.

ALMAGUER: But even for many of them free health care is the only health care they could afford....

#From the Wednesday, August 12, Good Morning America on ABC:

ROBIN ROBERTS: Now, we want to show you the faces behind the health care debate, uninsured Americans, more than 40 million in this country. Well, some of them are lining up this morning to get free medical care from a group of doctors and nurses who started out working in Third World countries and are now offering their services in Los Angeles, and you can see our Mike von Fremd is there now. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE VON FREMD: Good morning, Robin. Desperate people have been waiting in this Los Angeles parking lot for a precious ticket. It's one that lets them enter a world where hundreds of doctors and volunteers stand ready to provide health care for free....

ELON KLECKNER, MOTHER: Children shouldn't have to be concerned about if their teeth are hurting, their eyes are hurting, you know? And if they have problems, you know, well, Mom, I can't really see the board or read my book.

VON FREMD: All that is about to change when the doors open at 5:30 a.m.

STAN BROCK, REMOTE AREA MEDICAL: We don't need to know anything about your personal history. We just need to know what your medical history might have been, so that we don't give somebody the wrong medicine. Who's got number one?...

VON FREMD: The founder of Remote Area Medical has helped needy patients by bringing this assembly line of dentists, eye doctors and MDs across America to 12 states.

BROCK: It's first-come, first-served basis, no questions asked, no financial information required. There are a lot of good programs in this country, but they tend to have hurdles that the patient has to leap through in order to get the care.

VON FREMD: Brock gets his volunteer local army of doctors and nurses to agree to do what it takes to get the people in need of care the care they need, even if it requires follow-up visits, and even if the diagnosis is serious....It's a blessing that continues through next Tuesday. In that time, the hope is that many thousands of people in Los Angeles will get the health care they need but cannot afford to pay for.

#From the Thursday, August 13, NBC Nightly News:

ANN CURRY: Also in California tonight, a vivid reminder of the need for affordable health care in this country. On Tuesday, we reported on a group of doctors offering free care at a health fair. And since then, the demand for their services has become even more overwhelming. NBC correspondent Miguel Almaguer is in Los Angeles now with more on this. Miguel?

MIGUEL ALMAGUER: Ann, every chair that has a doctor has a patient in it. This massive medical floor is designed to get those patients in and out as quickly as possible. But volunteers just can't keep up....

ALMAGUER: RAM, or Remote Area Medical, began serving Third World countries back in 1985. In the U.S., they started working in underserved rural communities. Now they've made their way to the nation's second largest city.

STAN BROCK, REMOTE AREA MEDICAL: There really is no difference. This could be Guatemala. There is no difference.


ALMAGUER: For the lucky ones who were treated today, the hopeful ones who will return tomorrow, and the volunteers who treat them all, these days at the L.A. Forum are a stark illustration that for many Americans, free health care is the only health care they can afford. This massive mobile hospital will remain anchored here at the L.A. Forum until Tuesday. But organizers say if they were here all month it probably still would not meet the need of this city alone.

-Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.