A joint investigation with

Dig Deeper: What You Need to Know About America’s Health Care Crisis


The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its ruling on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within the next two weeks, a decision that could possibly overturn the health care reform bill passed in 2010 that has been a cornerstone of the Obama presidency.

For years, FRONTLINE has been investigating the problems with the country’s health care system, the dramatic push to reform health care policy and innovative new ways of addressing Americans’ health care needs — and rising costs.

Next Tuesday, we’ll continue the story in our joint investigation with the Center for Public Integrity, Dollars and Dentists, which explores the nation’s ruptured dental-care system and some possible solutions to fix it. (Watch a preview of the film above.)

Until then, here’s some of our best reporting on the health care crisis and some of the key aspects that could be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Obama’s Deal [April 2010]

“The president said that having people at the table is better than having them throw stuff at the table.” — White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer

In Obama’s Deal, FRONTLINE took viewers behind the headlines to reveal the political maneuvering behind Barack Obama’s effort to remake the American health system and transform the way Washington works. The investigation revealed the dramatic details of how an idealistic president pursued the health care fight — despite the warnings of many of his closest advisers — and how he ended up making deals with many of the powerful special interests he had campaigned against.

  • Explore our chronology of how the health care reform bill passed, from its bipartisan origins early into Obama’s presidency to its passage on March 21, 2010 without a single Republican vote.
  • Learn about the health care lobby’s influence in the final outcome of the bill, and some of the controversial deals cut by President Obama.
  • Read extended interviews with key players, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who had been an important swing vote in President Obama’s bipartisan strategy for getting a health reform bill passed but who ultimately voted against the bill; White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer; and Michael Myers and Stuart Altman, two longtime health policy advisers who argue the long political history of health care reform is, in many ways, the story of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Sick Around America [March 2009]

“You can mandate that people have health insurance, but if it costs more than they can afford, it doesn’t matter.” — Insurance consultant Robert Laszewski

Back in 2009, as the worsening economy led to massive job losses — potentially forcing millions more Americans to go without health insurance — FRONTLINE traveled the country to examine the nation’s broken health care system and the need for a fundamental overhaul. The film dissects how millions of Americans go without health insurance, a private insurance system that leaves millions of others underinsured and at risk of bankruptcy, and the challenges some states have experienced in mandating health insurance.

Doctor Hotspot [July 2011]

“It pretty quickly became clear that there were hot spots of everything. … You could begin to take the data and tell stories with the data. And that’s an incredibly powerful tool for making change.” — Dr. Jeffrey Brenner

As health care’s rising costs have left some of the nation’s sickest and poorest without quality care, some people believe a local physician in Camden, N.J. might have the model to solve one of America’s most intractable problems: lowering the cost of care.

While analyzing medical billing data in Camden, N.J., Dr. Jeffrey Brenner mapped out “hot spots” of the impoverished city’s high-cost patients. By targeting unique care — including home visits and social workers — at the city’s most costly patients, he developed a program that he argues has both lowered health care costs and provided better care in Camden. The New Yorker‘s Atul Gawande, reporting for FRONTLINE, explored how Dr. Brenner’s medical strategy has garnered considerable attention — praised by some as a promising model worthy of more intense study and charged by others as a dangerous expansion of the health care system. But, Brenner told FRONTLINE, “Better care for people is disruptive change.”

Facing Death [November 2010]

“Thirty percent of all care [is very glibly termed] waste. That’s the new mantra. It’s very hard to know what that means. And it’s very hard to bring that out of Washington and into a hospital and at the bedside, with a single individual facing death.” — Dr. Jerome Groopman

As medical technology has advanced to keep sick Americans alive for longer than ever before, FRONTLINE took a closer measure of a less familiar but incredibly important element of today’s health care system: complicated end-of-life decisions.

With extraordinary access to The Mount Sinai Medical Center, one of New York’s biggest hospitals, FRONTLINE talked to doctors, patients and families who speak with remarkable candor about the increasingly difficult choices people are making at the end of life: when to remove a breathing tube in the ICU; when to continue treatment for patients with aggressive blood cancers; when to perform a surgery; and when to call for hospice.

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