COMMENTS: Healthcare Costs

ABC launched a series Critical Condition on how the issue of healthcare would play out in Campaign 2008. Anchor Charles Gibson interviewed a trio of experts to draw out the battle lines: Gail Wilensky of Project HOPE, Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Karen Davis of the Commonwealth Fund. All agreed that healthcare was not so much an issue for the primary campaign--since most Republicans share one platform and most Democrats another--but for the General Election. Altman called them "fundamental fork-in-the-road differences" between Democrats, who want to improve the current system, and Republicans, who have no commitment to universal coverage and focus on "insurance purchased by individuals with a tax break." Gibson summarized with a rule of thumb: all candidates who pledge to make healthcare universal will hike taxes; all candidates who pledge "no new taxes" implicitly eliminate universal healthcare from their platform.

As for current government healthcare, NBC's Mark Potter took an In Depth look at the FBI's crackdown on Medicare fraud in Florida. The most lucrative ripoff involves bills for "durable medical equipment" such as oxygen generators, breathing machines and orthopedic gear. A single $5,000 electric wheelchair had been billed for sale to phantom patients so many times that Medicare had cut $5m in checks for it. Many equipment firms "are simply fronts for illegal billing with virtually nothing inside." Potter's cameras showed FBI agents visit one so-called medical supply company: "In the middle of the day the door is locked; the phone unanswered; no sign of legitimate business."

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