sick around america

What are your thoughts on our health insurance system? In the stories that we’ve covered here, which one do you relate to most...?

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FRONTLINE has received a number of letters from viewers remarking on correspondent T.R. Reid's absence in Sick Around America. During the final editing of the film, editorial differences emerged between FRONTLINE and Mr. Reid about the ending and conclusions of the film.  FRONTLINE worked with Mr. Reid to try resolve those differences, but the gap could not be bridged. Mr. Reid told FRONTLINE that he wanted to be removed from the film and we reluctantly complied with his request.

Read FRONTLINE’s extended response »


I am disappointed that this long-awaited special on healthcare did not address the single payer option. There were ample interviews with insurance company lobbyists but no discussion of this obvious choice. Our nation's people are in crisis and the shameful greed displayed in other industries is replicated in the for profit hospital corporations, insurance companies and pharmceutical industries. We cannot afford profit in healthcare, as we will continue to have a chaotic, threadbare system riddled with donut holes and pitfalls for those who can least navigate: patients and their families. I'd like to see equal time -- a Frontline on the single payer option.

Grace Gifford
Conway, SC

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Many viewers have written criticizing this report for not looking at solutions, in particular, a single payer system. Certainly, the topic is another important piece of any examination into the health care system and how it can be improved. And it would warrant a separate program of its own. We would like to point out that we did examine how the single payer system works in many European countries in our program last season, Sick Around the World. You can view this online.We believe that our report this week, Sick Around America, was equally of value in focusing on our current private health insurance system and showing how many Americans are only one or two events away from financial disaster or total ruin because they can't afford this insurance, or because it offers inadequate coverage, or because it suddenly can be rescinded by the insurer for alleged omissions or errors. We also felt it important in this report to look at another major problem with the private insurance system: America's for-profit medical system means that insurers have a fiscal duty to avoid risk and make profits for investors. Thus, insuring people who already have serious, chronic illnesses works against the interests of stockholders.


Frontline is always informative for issues but I really like the ones about the healthcare system. They really go right to the problem. There should be universal healthcare in The United States. If you look at other countries they have a universal plan and they work. The hardest thing would be to have everyone participate. My heart goes out to the ones without healthcare and more so for the ones who pass on because they cannot qualify for healthcare. Hopefully there will be universal healthcare system soon.

Raven Diaz
San Rafael, Ca


After watching this program it was clear to me that America needs to find a different way of allocating healthcare resources. It was sad and disheartening to see all of those people who either were extremely affected by the lack of health insurance or those that potentially could have been in a sticky situation. Although it cannot all be blamed on the health care system itself, they were right when they said that people need to start wanting less. We cannot always have to best and most of everything, there needs to be room for compromising. There needs to be a middle ground where everyone comes to a decision on what would be best for us as a nation.

Taylor Curtis
San Rafael, CA


I noticed that once again the discussion over health care costs overlooked the most basic financial liabilities that we can quickly and easily address: the cost of training and maintaining the education of doctors and nurses.

For about every year of medical school, doctors will assume loans for costs that are similar to buying a house. I bet it would not be unusual for a doctor to graduate, and begin his first day of practice, under a burden of between a quarter to a half a million dollars. I suppose that the cost of training and educating nurses would be similar, but less noticeable because we spread their training out more evenly over the course of their careers.

With start-up costs for a patient's care providers so high, how can we even begin to discuss health care reform without effectively addressing this financial burden? Anyone who has worked in a factory would recognize that these forms of initial overhead and investment have got to be incredibly influential on future costs.

Until politicians propose some kind of basic plan to address the observable costs associated with beginning the process of getting a health care provider to begin with, how are we to believe that anyone has a serious plan for reforming the overall cost distribution?

We need to make educating medical providers free of charge to the students who will become future health care providers if we are going to make any effective inroads on this problem. Plans which alleviate wealthy corporations of costs while maintaining greater financial burdens on the doctors and nurses themselves will be doomed to failure.

John O'Keefe-Odom
Chattanooga, TN


I think the broadcast was informative to show how fragile our health care system is. Throughout the broadcast I was thinking how difficult it will be for some people to accept the single payer system. If every American was entitled to health care people will may have to sacrifice some services offered by private insurance. As a nursing student, I think it will be challenging to find common ground with the health care insurance industry, health care workers, pharmaceutical companies and employers that offer health care to their employees. Americans need a new system of health care and hopefully the politics do not get in the way of getting the help that we need. I would also like to see a special on the single payer system for America to way to pros and cons of a new health care system.

Nicole Brady
San Rafael, CA


As a student of the problems with our present healthcare delivery sytem, there was not much new for me in your show "Sick around America". I suppose there are still some Americans who would have found the show insightful, telling them something they did not already know. I had expected more from Frontline. To give tacit validity to the Health Industry CEOs seems much like suggesting that the Tobacco Industry CEOs should lead the discussion of how to use tobacco responsibly.

Bruce Thomson, MD
Corvallis, OR


Currently we pay billions of dollars of tax money directly to private insurance companies. Why does no one ever say this? All public employees, from teachers to firefighters to road crew flag people, who have benefits, receive those benefits via payments to private insurance companies. Look at any school budget and see the millions that are paid out to private insurance companies. Can you imagine what putting this money back into programs and teachers would do to improve our education system?

Directly related to our economic recovery, payments to private insurance companies are crippling businesses that might otherwise be able to make a profit.

Private insurance companies are ruining our economy and costing us far more in tax dollars than any national health care plan could possibly do.

The answer:return Medicare to pre-Bush status, including the ability to negotiate for discounts for prescription drugs and close the doughnut hole - no plans a, b, or z - just one plan. Then expand Medicare to cover all U.S. citizens without regard to income. Require all clinics, hospitals and physicians to accept Medicare patients (many currently do not, cutting down healthcare options tremendously) as part of licensing. No Medicare payments, no license to operate -simple.

This would cost no more than our current expenditures on health care. Do the math - I did and once done, it's so obvious you can't imagine why anyone would deal with private health insurance companies - well, unless they were taking enormous amounts of money from those companies.

Terry Weiss
Corvallis, Oregon


As is usual for your program, your coverage of the healthcare topic was quite informative. Having read the complaints regarding the lack of coverage of a "single-payor system" and your rebuttal referencing "Sick Around the World", your audience may find it enlightening if you were to cover the topic of healthcare in Japan. Japan, being the second or third largest economy may offer the US citizenry a fine corollary.

Gregory Fusco
Chicago, IL

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

For more information on Japan's health care system, watch the video on Japan's system in FRONTLINE's Sick Around the World. It was a report from last season.


Nothing annoys me more than expats who have spent their working lives in the US paying taxes to the US government who when they need medical care have to come back "home" to NZ because the richest society on the planet would rather spend billions of dollars on military overkill than on the health of it's taxpayers.

Phil Graham
Auckland, New Zealand


Although your program did not address the single-payer option directly, your viewers may be interested to know that a growing movement in support is moving through the country. This past week, the Lane County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution calling for "honest, full and fair" debate of this option in the healthcare legislation before Congress. Lane County is one of the most populous and geographically diverse parts of the state, including the city of Eugene, where the University of Oregon is located. This resolution marks the first Oregon county government to have weighed in on the issue, and the local press is doing little to cover it.

Joanne Daschel
Lincoln City, Oregon


Good job, Frontline. Please keep this kind of information coming. More people educated, better chances there are to fix the 'sick' health care system in this country.

Louisville, CO


The people in this country want national healthcare. We're watching trillions go to Wall Street but we're told there's not enough money to pay for healthcare. Our leaders act like there's no model to follow and oddly enough, the people who complain most about national healthcare are people on Medicare. I use Indian Health Care facilities in Oklahoma. All services and medications are absolutely free. The doctors are caring, the nurses are wonderful. The only time that treatment is lacking is when there's not enough funding. I feel blessed to have this care. All Americans deserve this care. I also have insurance and it barely pays for anything.It costs me around $250 a month but I'm thousands in debt after spending time in the hospital with Leukemia. And my insurance is considered good. Give us National health care now President Obama.

Ellen Yarbrough
Baxter Springs, KS


While Frontline addressed many of the problems, we want solutions presented. Yes, there are many problems with insurance companies. Of course they would want mandated insurance for everyone, because the premiums go right into their pockets. Now Americans are wasting 2- 30% of our healthcare dollars on insurance companies who give no direct care. Single payer healthcare hr676 eliminates insurance companies and is the most cost effective solution to universal healthcare. For those who work in insurance companies there is a clause in this bill suported by 76 US congress people that would give them first choice on retraining and unemloyment benefits for two years. Please let Americans know about this often left out alternative plan to Obama's.

louisville, ky

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Read more discussion about this FRONTLINE report at the PBS's Ombudsman's Web site.


Dear Frontline -- Your "Sick in America" program did not highlight two of the biggest problems of health care in our country: the administrative costs and profit that goes to health care insurance companies, and the prescription drug companies' profits. A Single Payer government insurance plan would radically bring down the former, and reshape the latter via mass buying. We consumers would pay for our coverage via taxation, and employers would do the same. All the costs will come down and the hospitals and physicians can be well-paid at the same time.

Jean Jackson
Oakland, CA


Universal healthcare is both morally right and physcally smart. Who could honestly think healthy people cost more to treat? What better way to keep people healthy than with healthcare for all, rich or poor. CASE IN POINT: I am a young man who is healthy...or so I thought. While traveling, I develovoped blood clots in my legs that moved up to my chest and nearly killed me. Between jobs and uninsured, I did nothing when I felt sharp pains in my legs. The pain went away and I forgot about it. It was only when I felt unbelievable pain in my chest that I saw a doctor. Had I gone to get treatment initially, the cost would have been a few dollars a month for a generic drug. Instead the costs exceeded $110,000 as I spent a month in the hospital and ICU. Because I have no income or assets, the hospital is having me fill out forms so they can bill the county. Taxpayers are already paying, they just do not realize it.

shane algarin
san diego, ca


I am upset that you ignored the role of current government regulation on the costs of health care. How do insurance regulations affect premiums? How do lawsuits affect doctors' pricing? Do you need a doctor to set a broken bone? Or could someone cheaper (a nurse, or perhaps someone who specializes in setting bones) be just as effective? Shots have, for many years, been administered by nurses at a trememdous savings for patients. Does the AMA, through licensing, influence the availability of these other options? Please take more time to examine the entire issue instead of presenting a parade of 'human interest' rating catchers.

Aaron Chandler
Greenwood, Indiana


posted march 31, 2009

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