Dec. 15, 2005 -- Peter Jennings' last documentary, "Peter Jennings Reporting: Breakdown -- America's Health Insurance Crisis," premieres tonight on ABC. Throughout his storied career at ABC, Jennings reported over 60 documentaries on subjects ranging from the India-Pakistan conflict to the obesity epidemic -- all stories he believed were deserving of a full hour of prime-time investigation.
In this last documentary, filmed in the months before he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Peter Jennings reports on this country's broken health insurance system, which is threatening American families -- and American businesses.
Jennings reports that the growing number of uninsured affects the health care all Americans receive. He begins by reporting from emergency rooms in Houston, Texas, a city where almost one-third of the population lacks insurance. As more and more of these uninsured turn to emergency rooms for medical care, emergency care for the insured and uninsured alike suffers.
Jennings reports that one of the factors leading to the increasing number of uninsured is the difficulty involved in buying insurance. Even people who can afford the ever-increasing prices can't always get it. In most states, health insurance companies can turn down applicants who suffer from even the most common medical problems, like allergies and acne.
In the past, employer-based health insurance was a reliable place to turn for coverage, but today even that is in jeopardy. Jennings reveals how escalating health insurance costs are putting nearly all American businesses at risk. From small family-owned car repair shops to the once-mighty General Motors, the uniquely American system of employer-based health insurance is becoming unaffordable for small businesses, and unsustainable for large corporations operating in a global economy.
Though Americans often blame insurance companies for the rapidly increasing cost of health insurance, Jennings finds that prices are rising because Americans are using more medical care -- and more expensive care -- than ever before. Since the 1980s, the amount the country spends on medical care has increased by 500 percent. Americans believe that more care is better care, but this is not always the case. According to research from Dartmouth Medical School, more medical care can often result in worse outcomes.
In Peter Jennings' last documentary, he finds that spiraling costs and the growing number of uninsured are all part of a health insurance system in a state of crisis.