Selling Healthcare to the Silent Majority

Matt Klink
President, Klink Campaigns

Healthcare Reform. For the last three months, this one phrase has all but shut down Washington, DC, and now, with Congress in recess, will undoubtedly overwhelm most, if not all public appearances by members of Congress when they return to their districts.

Already, examples abound about constituents loudly voicing serious concerns regarding the prospect of a big-government healthcare solution driven by progressives in Congress. Turncoat Senator Arlen Specter’s (D-PA) town hall was disrupted with complaints about reform, as was an in-district meeting by Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett. Expect more of the same to occur in towns and cities across America.

The reason for this “disruption” is simple: the American people are finally focusing on this huge topic…and what they hear about proposed reforms – i.e., more money out of their pockets, possible healthcare rationing, disruption of the patient-doctor relationship and a government-run program – confuses and scares them. The American public’s concerns are simple – how will “reform” impact me, my family and my future? The politicians’ solutions are complicated. Does the average American really relate to the prospect of “bending the healthcare curve?”

Politicians, including President Obama, know the opportunity for reform is slowly, painfully slipping through their fingers…because poll numbers supporting reform are dropping. To date, the messaging (i.e., the language used to sell reform) has grossly missed the mark.

Foolishly, the Democrat spin machine has gone out of its way to brand district disruptions as efforts by the right wing to quash legitimate discussion about healthcare reform – trying to link those who voice healthcare reform concerns to the hundreds of thousands who supported the tea parties protesting higher taxes. The White House has even gotten into the act with former KNBC-TV political reporter Linda Douglass (and now Obama healthcare spin-meister) trying to “justify” then candidate Obama’s comments about supporting a single payer healthcare system.

What is fascinating from a message perspective is how those who attempted to rush passage of healthcare reform through Congress before the August recess realize that their initial messaging failed. Now, they’re frantically trying to re-educate the American public and change the terms of the debate. Virtually gone from the discussion are concerns of the 47 million uninsured Americans…partly because even under the three Democrat plans in existence, the number of uninsured still runs in the tens of millions. And, when costs for “reform” run into the trillions of dollars over a 10-year period…all Americans should hold onto their pocket books.

President Obama and Democrats are now trying to “sell” reform to the overwhelming majority of Americans who have insurance (the so-called silent majority) but want improvements or tweaks made to the system. It is these folks that must be convinced that what they currently have would be made better with “reform.” Yes, we have all seen insurance premiums rise and co-pays escalate…but are these increases so onerous that a wholesale reconfiguration of 17 percent of America’s economy warranted? Unless and until politicians can connect healthcare reform to the individual – what does it mean to me – expect support to continue declining.

Unfortunately for most Americans, aside from conversations on Capitol Hill, extreme special interest groups have attempted to sway the debate. MoveOn.org is currently airing campaign-style advertisements targeting Blue Dog (centrist) Democrats for not supporting Obamacare. President Obama, smartly, asked them to back-off…realizing that such attacks will be counter productive. Similarly, on the right, conservative groups urge no reform…as if the status quo is working.

Thankfully, a bi-partisan group of centrists is working largely out of the limelight, trying to come up with realistic and smaller reforms that will help to control costs but won’t result in healthcare rationing and, almost certainly won’t have a so-called “public option” or government-run plan.

These small-scale “reforms” will anger the extremes (left and right) and will frustrate ideologues in Congress…and that probably means that the centrists will get reform just about right. The question then is…is half a loaf better than no loaf at all?

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