The health care debate in the US continues to become more heated by the day, revealing new characters with dramatic twists and turns. From the outside it almost plays like a movie (well, maybe not a great movie) where I nearly reach for a soda and a bag of popcorn while watching constituents yelling at their local representative during town halls or US politicians debate about whether the health care reform will create so-called “death panels.”
However, as an American with family stretched across the country I am soon reminded of the sobering reality that this debate cuts much closer to home.
Family members on Medicare or Medicaid? Check. Family members uninsured? Check. Family members with insurance but poor, expensive coverage? Check. Family members struggling or unable to pay health care bills? Check. Family members discriminated by insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions? Check.
In fact such woes are a common thread in modern-day American families and proliferate each day that health care reform is not achieved.
So what gives? A recent poll reveals that a majority of Americans are not satisfied with the current system and support reform at some level. With such overwhelming support it would seem that reform would be easier rather than more difficult. But it’s not so easy as seen in the Obama administration’s fledgling attempts to control the public debate over a signature issue in President Obama’s first term. In the US, health care is a for-profit big business that accounts for over 15 percent, and growing, of the GDP (it was 8.8 percent in 1980) and links the interest of those on Wall Street to Main Street.
To galvanize public discord, opponents of reform have jumped on one key aspect of the Obama administration’s health care proposal: the creation of a “public option” to compete with private plans. By referring to this component as “socialized medicine,” opponents have intentionally touched upon an American emotional fault-line that dates back to the 1940s when the crusade against Communism was cultivated.
In 1945 President Harry Truman took office and brought national health care insurance to the center of domestic politics in the hopes of expanding compulsory coverage to all citizens. Capitalizing on anti-Communist sentiment, opponents quickly labeled it “socialized medicine” and launched a huge campaign whereby the American Medical Association (AMA), American Hospital Association (AHA), and others fought to resist national health care. The AMA alone spent over $1 million on lobbying and media efforts, releasing one pamphlet that said: “Would socialized medicine lead to socialization of other phases of life? Lenin thought so. He declared socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.”
Fast-forward to 2009, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, and the attempt to link socialism with national health insurance is stronger than ever. Opponents to health care reform have spearheaded a broad (mis)communication strategy that is guided by the 1940s playbook. Thus, the Obama administration is in an enormous, up-hill battle to be the leading and guiding voice in the health care debate. To win, the president must stop playing defense and clearly distinguish the “public option” as not “socialized medicine” or “rationed care” but rather an opportunity to create more health care options for families.
In short, he needs to increase his efforts to reach out to citizens and assuage misplaced concerns about the administration’s efforts to reform health care. Hosting town halls and creating a website, aptly named “Reality Check,” to provide information and dispel myths are good first steps but more needs to be done to rally public support or else I fear that this plan will be met with the same fate as those that have come before it. It will not be successful and American families will ultimately lose.