Those of us who believe passionately in universal health care must come to grips with how successfully the right has poisoned the public atmosphere, so that voters will consistently side against their own best interests in this debate.
That is the message of some new public opinion researched presented to the Tuesday Group, a weekly meeting of progressive activists, today by Lake Research Partners. Their focus group interviews show that it will take a lot of public education—and care to use the right words—to undo the damage done by conservatives to the idea that the status quo needs to be radically changed to bring the 47 million people who are currently uninsured under the health care coverage umbrella.
The first problem, said Rick Johnson of Lake Research, is the phrase “universal coverage.”
There is general agreement that health care costs too much, that people are getting less care for more money, and that something needs to be done about it. And voters see the issue in moral terms; they accept the view that no American should be denied access to care. But Johnson said that paradoxically “health care for all” scares people; it conjures up fears that “undeserving” people such as undocumented immigrants or people with unhealthy lifestyles will drive up costs for everyone else. Perhaps more significantly, the revulsion to the idea of government-run care is deep and powerful while the notion of privately-run care remains highly favorable — even though all of the things people fear about so-called government-run care—lack of choice, hit-or-miss quality, inefficiency, denied services—already exist as a matter of course in our current private enterprise system.
A concept that did resonate in the Lake Research focus groups is “quality, affordable health care,” which Johnson said more effectively bridges the uninsured and underinsured to insured people concerned about rising costs. A health care solution that is “American,” rather than Canadian or European, also appealed to the focus groups. Other concepts that were viewed positively include “prevention,” “choice” and “guaranteed” (rather than “required”).
The focus group participants were favorable toward a role for government as an enforcer or watchdog, making sure all of the other players in the system play fairly and do their jobs.
The results of the focus group did not go over well with some of the Tuesday Group participants. “If Lincoln had done that kind of polling, he would not have freed the slaves,” one participant said. But Johnson said that the point of the survey was not to have the results determine the policy goal, but to ensure that as activists attempt to sell a plan for universal health care—whatever it is called—that people know where the land mines laid by the right are.
Roger Hickey, co-chairman of the Campaign for America’s Future, said that what will be needed is a year-long debate, similar to the education campaign that successfully stopped President Bush’s Social Security privatization plan. The goal is to empower average citizens and activists with knowledge and with new ways of looking at the health care crisis, and the solutions, so they can push elected officials toward a change.
What is encouraging is that some real competition is emerging among some governors and some of the presidential candidates to come up with a health care coverage plan that not only is morally right but politically viable. Four current Democratic presidential candidates—Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson—have agreed to appear at a presidential debate March 24 in Las Vegas to debate their health care proposals. If these campaigns put their best minds to work on devising and selling a plan that brings health coverage to the millions who do not have it, that would go a long way toward disarming the minefields that protect the current dysfunctional—and for some, highly lucrative—system.
--Isaiah J. Poole
| Tuesday, February 27, 2007 11:26 AM