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Surprise! The plan is a DOG.

October 19, 2009

Since  my  piece on the Herndon Alliance last month, a couple of postings on the PNHP blog provide some follow-up.

I argued that by following the messaging recommendations of the Herndon Alliance, activists were paving the way for a reform bill that would neither provide health care for all nor control the rising cost of  medical care. One specific message they were promoting at the time was “Reform will give us the freedom of secure choices—to keep our plan and doctors, to choose another private plan, or the choice of a robust public health insurance option.” Then, as now, the public options actually proposed in congress were only available to people who were not offered insurance by their employer. Using the Herndon message has apparently been successful in obscuring this fact from most of the public, much of the media, and most pollsters, according to Kip Sullivan in “Public option” bait and switch campaign fools pollsters:

…Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is warning his constituents that the “public option” is not going to be available to the great majority of Americans. No one who has actually read the Senate health committee’s “reform” bill or the House “reform” bill (HR 3200) disputes this. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the “option” will be available only to about 30 million people, or about one American in ten. (snip)

Does the public understand this? According to Wyden, they don’t. Wyden says his constituents are shocked when they are told the “option” will not be available to the vast majority of Americans. When he began informing his constituents about this truth last summer, “They nearly fell out of the bleachers,” he said (“And the public option is….,” New York Times, October 17, 2009, A10).

Democrats and “option” advocates should pay attention to Wyden’s observation. Wyden is saying, in so many words, that “option” advocates, with help from the media and the blogosphere, have fooled the public into thinking everyone will be eligible to buy insurance from the “option,” and when the public finds out this isn’t true, they’re not going to be happy.

The rest of the piece shows how almost all polling on the public option has been worded in ways that strongly imply that it will be a choice open to all. This kind of public option is strongly supported. The one poll that specifies the “option” as defined in the actual legislation shows a large drop in support. Nevertheless, Sullivan points out, public option supporters continually use the polling data to argue that American’s are in favor of the public option in the health reform bills.

The true nature of the public option is just one surprise the public will get if anything along the lines of the current health care reform proposals is passed. Leonard Rodberg reconsiders the Democratic and progressive belief that Democrats under Obama have to pass health care reform legislation in order to maintain control of the House and Senate in the mid-term elections. Passing the current plan will be just as bad, if not worse, than failing to pass it, he argues.

The general reason is that the Plan is a DOG. It is a terrible, complex plan that will accomplish almost nothing. Relatively few people will benefit from it, while everyone who has to use health care will continue to experience the mess that is, and will continue to be, the American health care system. And, because of the new requirements built into the Plan, health care finance will become even more complex and confusing.

Rodberg details five surprises that will really turn people off the Democrats’ plan, including likely increases in premiums for people with insurance from their employer, the long time until the provisions take effect (2013), taxes on so-called Cadillac plans, and the plan’s complexity.

So do the latest recommended messages from Herndon portray the public option any more accurately? From their website come suggestions for how to counter the right wing opposition’s use of the freedom frame:

Messaging ‘freedom’ and health reform
1. Their frame
“The government option (NOTE: opponents know that Americans favor the public plan option, but not a ‘government’ option; therefore, they consistently reference the public plan option as the government option) will force more than 100 million onto this plan and won’t let Americans choose their care.”
No choice = no freedom
Our frame
“The proposed public option provides those of us with private health coverage tremendous peace of mind. There is great freedom in knowing that we can keep what we now have, but if we lose a job or no longer can afford the costs there is a quality and secure back-up for us to turn to.”
Choice = freedom
Security = freedom

100 million? Where did that come from? Herndon is recycling a right wing argument against health care reform that circulated in June and July but hasn’t been heard since. By restating this inaccurate claim without directly refuting it they continue to reinforce the misconception most Americans have about the public option. The rest of their latest messages are misleading on several other aspects of the Democratic plan that Rodberg mentions. This is the most influential pro-health care reform PR operation and they can’t be honest about the plan because they know the public won’t support it. No wonder people will be surprised.

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