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Latest Fox News Health Care Fear Smear Mongering: Michelle Obama Will Cause Patient Dumping

Reported by Ellen - July 23, 2009 -

In a laughable about face, Sean Hannity suddenly decided late in his show last night (7/22/09) that he had a concern for poor people without health insurance. Earlier in the same show, Hannity had insisted in an argument with Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) that all people get medical treatment regardless of ability to pay. This is a stance Hannity has repeatedly taken, usually in combination with some kind of derision of universal health coverage. But later, Fox News’ Ainsley Earhart appeared to do one of her special investigations into patient dumping at University of Chicago Medical Center. Whenever Earhart shows her face on Hannity, it’s almost certain that some kind of unfair, unbalanced reporting is about to ensue. She did not disappoint this time as she repeatedly suggested that Michelle Obama’s ties to UCMC indicated that the president’s health care plan will deny treatment to the poor, which Hannity now considered an important issue. With video.

Earhart’s report focused on a UCMC program called the “Urban Health Initiative,” supposedly launched by Michelle Obama, working with now-President-Obama-advisors Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, which was designed to steer non-emergency cases out of its waiting room and into other clinics better equipped to treat them. It was supposed to be a “win-win” arrangement which would ensure better care for them, reduce the UCMC’s caseload and, presumably, funnel business to other local medical centers. Lately, however, allegations have arisen that UCMC is using the system to cherry pick patients. What Earhart never reported, despite stressing several times how “fair and balanced” she was being, is that Michelle Obama left UCMC in 2008, after reducing her hours to half time, and then 20% in 2007.

Earhart opened her “investigation” with a blatant suggestion that President Obama's health care plan would resemble the UCMC plan. “Before you buy into Barack Obama’s universal health care plan, you might want to hear about a little known medical program key members of his administration started on Chicago’s South Side.”

Unlike her one-sided reporting about the New Haven firefighter reverse discrimination case which excluded any viewpoints of African Americans, Earhart did manage to include someone with an opposing view last night. In this case it was Jim Jirjis, a former student at University of Chicago Medical School who said the program “identif(ied) people who are using the Emergency Room in ways that really aren’t appropriate, but because they have no other option, and it helps wed those patients with a far superior patient-centered medical home model.”

Earhart made no effort to investigate if that were true, whether the problems might be a design flaw in the plan or a flaw of its execution, other than to complain that nobody associated with UCMC would talk to her. Earhart also made no attempt to inform viewers how much of this plan was likely to show up in the president's. I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that the answer is, none. Earhart also offered no interviews with any personnel from any of the other clinics who supposedly took the detoured patients, offered no overview of whether the care for the community had improved or deteriorated in the ensuing years, other than some anecdotal reports of dissatisfied patients and a horror story she seems to have gotten directly from an article in the American Thinker linked to by Michelle Malkin last March. Coincidentally, Malkin also suggested that the UCMC system would be “coming to a hospital near you.”

Earhart made no apparent attempt to discover whether the problems at UCMC had begun before or after Michelle Obama stopped working there. But that did not stop her from suggesting that Michelle Obama was somehow responsible for incidents that occurred after her departure. For example, Earhart said that one incident of a Medicaid patient being turned away “caught the attention of the American College of Emergency Physicians early in 2009 (Feb)… (which) issued a scathing press release.” She forgot to mention that Michelle Obama had been long gone from the Medical Center by then. “A few months later, a 78 year old Medicare patient died in the waiting room after nurses failed to register him for almost 4 hours,” Earhart continued with grave insinuation.

Earhart later added that the Medical Center may be brought up on charges in the future, though she didn’t report anyone on the brink of filing any.

“So why should Americans be concerned?” Earhart asked. She showed a clip of a critic of the program saying, “If (the Obamas) will develop a program like this for their neighbors, what are they likely to do for us out in flyover country?”

“With health care high on the presidential agenda, we will soon find out,” Earhart chirped.

Not surprisingly, Hannity added a few unsubstantiated smears after Earhart's "investigation" concluded. “So basically this is patient dumping,” new-friend-to-the-poor Hannity declared.

Earhart sympathetically responded that a lot of people she had interviewed agreed.

“They did this,” Hannity said, meaning, of course, the Obamas. “They benefitted financially because her pay went up when he became a State Senator.”

“Right,” Earhart concurred.

Actually, that’s wrong. FactCheck.org reports that Michelle Obama was hired by UCMC in 2002 and given a promotion and pay raise in 2005. Barack Obama became a State Senator in 1997. It’s true that Michelle Obama received a promotion and a raise shortly after Barack Obama became a United States Senator. Presumably, Hannity meant to imply her raise and promotion were connected with that event, echoing the allegations in a New York Post column debunked by FactCheck. They noted:

We can't say what the hospital's motivation was for promoting her. But Michael Riordan, who served as the medical center's president at the time, told the Chicago Tribune that it had nothing to do with her husband. "She was hired before Barack was Barack,” Riordan told the newspaper. "She is worth her weight in gold, and she is just terrific." The Tribune reported that Riordan "had planned early on for the position [of executive director of community affairs] to evolve into a vice president’s post as a way of showing the organization’s commitment to community outreach." Riordan said: "I knew where I wanted to go with this position. ... I wanted to identify someone to grow into it." And Easton said at the time that her increased salary was in line with those of other vice presidents at the medical center, who were earning between $291,000 and $362,000, according to the newspaper.