Monday, November 12, 2007

Tough Pill to Swallow

[Journalistic Propaganda] Veteran Salt Lake Tribune business writer Lesley Mitchell must have been choking back heartburn while writing this full-blown Sunday cover story on employers who have no choice but to pass along rising health care costs to the rank and file of their companies.

"Sickened by the cost," the headline of Mitchell's story bleats. And then, the subhead: "Sky-high insurance forces more employers to pass along the burden, or pass on care altogether."

The week before, social services beat writer Kirsten Stewart
weighed in on essentially the same subject: how small businesses (in this case, Liberty Heights Fresh boutique grocery owner Steven Rosenberg) struggle so hard to buy health insurance for their workers they simply have to opt out of offering that benefit anymore. Yet somehow, Rosenberg can continue to sell tiny plastic containers of hummus for $6-plus. But I digress.

What could have been the impetus for two business cover features on the same topic, and in such detail? Well, back at the
MediaNews Group ranch (parent company of the Trib, the Denver Post, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, San Jose Mercury News and a string of other California dailies), employees were informed at open enrollment insurance meetings just last week of the corporation's new plan to self-insure. It means premium increases amounting to double or more for most editorial employees, as well as a big cut in overall coverage and physician choice. Adding spouses and children will also substantially
hike employee premiums.

Add this to the fact that most Trib reporters, photographers and copy editors--especially those at mid-career level or better--rarely get any more than a 2 percent annual raise (it they get one at all), and the story about health care costs gets deeply personal. The grumbling among editorial staff has grown loud enough to make it to City Weekly--several sources have said a letter of protest will soon be generated by the staff to Trib
editor Nancy Conway. Essentially, that move will amount to petitioning the junior high principal for more varieties of soda pop in the vending machines, but whatever.

It isn't news that the state of America's health care costs is in crisis. But two cover stories in one week about how hard these costs are on employers, just before hitting the Trib staff with a big bite out of their own checks is a bit much. Honestly, must readers of the Trib be subjected to this steady stream of propaganda from MediaNews
czar Dean Singleton, who has been gobbling up new acquisitions for at least the last four years like there's no tomorrow? Really, are times so tough for Dean? We're just wondering when he had to last postpone a trip to the doc with a bout of walking pneumonia because one more co-pay was too much to bear. (Holly Mullen)

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