August 9, 2009

Democrats Not Selling Health Care Reform Well

Oak Knoll Hospital on LFImage by TunnelBug via Flickr
The political debate over health care reform in the U.S. is heating up and will only become more intense in the near future. It seems to me that the Democratic Party, including President Obama, has done a terrible job explaining the need for meaningful reform and the importance of the so-called "public option" to the American people. I suspect that some do not understand it themselves, and others are clearly in the pocket of the insurance companies. This is more than a PR failure, but it is most certainly that too. And on the PR front, it seems to me that many Democrats are making this far more complicated than need be the case.

For those politicians who are serious about bringing about heath care reform and are not merely pandering on a popular issue to win votes, your message must do the following:
  1. Demonstrate that the status quo is untenable (i.e., convince us that doing nothing is not an option).
  2. Convince us that your plan will improve the quality of the health care to which many of us now have access.
  3. Convince us that your plan will permit more Americans to have access to health care than is now the case.
  4. Convince us that your plan will be more cost-effective over the long-term than the current system.
So far, I feel like I have seen largely ineffective attempts to accomplish #1 and #4 with very little attention devoted to #2 and #3. This is concerning because #1 and #2 should be closely tied together if any plan is going to win widespread acceptance. Focusing on #1 and #4 while ignoring #2 is merely going to scare people and turn them off to the whole thing.

What we need to hear more of with regard to #1 is that the U.S. has the most expensive and one of the least effective health care systems that can be found in the industrialized world. But as we hit people over the head with this fact, we must follow with a cogent plan for improving the quality of health care.

What about #3? This is one of those that sounds very appealing until one realizes that lots of middle-class voters already have health insurance (or do not want health insurance) and are not really as concerned about the poor as they might want us to believe. This is a big part of why #2 must receive much more attention than it has so far. Americans will get behind #3 but only as more of a secondary benefit of #2. Without #2, I fear that #3 is going to have next to no real traction.

It also seems that #4 is getting too much attention this early in the game. It is important, but it has to be clearly tied to #1 and #2. Many people will be willing to pay a little more if they will see a clear benefit for themselves and their families. Of course, there are some other considerations which could be implemented in a health care plan that would result in improved care and significant savings.

Perhaps health care reform will fail because too many politicians of both parties are bought and paid for by the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. At least our goal would then be clear (i.e., divorcing politics from money). But if it fails due to ineffective PR, I'm not sure anyone will know where to go from there.