Memo To Democrats: You Need A Clear Message For Universal Healthcare

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BY: Mehdi Hasan 06.28.17

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In 2009, the noted Republican strategist Frank Luntz wrote a memo to GOP members of Congress, advising them on how to resist the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill that would go on to become Obamacare. “Stop talking economic theory,” he said, use “words that work,” and offer a viable conservative alternative. “It’s not enough to just say what you’re against,” instructed Luntz. “You have to tell them what you’re for.”

Fast forward eight years. The tables have turned and Democrats have spent the past few weeks trying to resist Trumpcare — in the form of a now-postponed healthcare bill from Senate Republicans that was supposed to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. The bill was condemned by a wide array of nonpartisan healthcare groups, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would strip 22 million people of health insurance by 2026.

How did we get to this point? A point where Harvard researchers are warning of 217,000 additional deaths over the next decade from a loss of health coverage? Part of the blame has to lie with the Democrats, who failed to heed Luntz’s advice to the Republicans.

First, in defending Obamacare, they lacked “words that work.” For instance, how many people know, understand or even care what an “individual mandate” is? How about insurance “exchanges”? Or the “public option”? These technical terms and phrases have obscured more than they have clarified. They have also played into the hands of the Republicans, who have worked hard to ensure that the public view healthcare only through a partisan lens.

Remember: around one in three Americans is unaware of the fact that there is no difference between Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — they are one and the same. Many of these people tell pollsters that they like the ACA but dislike Obamacare. (Isn’t it odd how so many Americans’ view of a healthcare system changes when you put the foreign-sounding name of a black man in front of it?)

Second, Democrats have turned down opportunity after opportunity to offer a comprehensive healthcare alternative that guarantees coverage to all Americans (unlike Obamacare, which leaves around 27 million Americans uninsured.) During the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton said a single-payer “healthcare for all” system would “never, ever come to pass.” Inspiring, huh?