Winning Words on Healthcare Reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:
by Robert Lyon
In this edition of The Winning Words Project, we focus on how to reframe and control the conversation around the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which is now the law of the land. It's not about government, taxes, or penalties– it's about patients. Focus on people. Here's how to take Republican talking points away from them by pivoting to the Patient Protection part of the PPACA.
In 2009, when Republicans feared President Obama's reforms to health care would pass Congress with support of the majority of the country (because polls consistently showed the majority of Americans wanted reform in our health care model), they turned to their go-to word-master, Frank Lunz. Luntz, known for his "Say This, Not That" and "Never say/Instead say"-style handbooks distributed throughout the Republican party, saw from his focus groups that it would be impossible to fight against the many improvements that people saw as much-needed benefits in the then-pending Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. So his advice to communication strategists within the Republican party was to tell Republicans to lie—to loudly and repeatedly shout about an imaginary "government takeover."
Flash forward to today. The constitutionality of the Patient Protection Act has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, yet Republicans are still stuck in repeal mode and lying about the law. Dave Weigel of Slate noticed this week that Republicans have reprised Lunz's dishonest script from 2009.
The arguments against the Democrats’ healthcare plan must center around “politicians,” “bureaucrats,” and “Washington” … not the free market, tax incentives, or competition. Stop talking economic theory and start personalizing the impact of a government takeover of healthcare. They don’t want to hear that you’re opposed to government healthcare because it’s too expensive (any help from the government to lower costs will be embraced) or because it’s anti-competitive (they don’t know about or care about current limits to competition). But they are deathly afraid that a government takeover will lower their quality of care – so they are extremely receptive to the anti-Washington approach. It’s not an economic issue. It’s a bureaucratic issue.And the phrase "patient-centered health care" that Luntz was promoting back then has been cropping up again and again in today's Republican speeches and press releases complaining about the newly confirmed law.
According to Representative Eric Cantor, “We’re going to continue to look towards the kind of health care that people want and that is patient-centered health care ..."
With that, we couldn't agree more.
America desperately needed more patient-centered health care, and that's exactly what they now have, thanks to the reforms in the Patient Protection Act passed by Democrats in Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama. This last hurdle—approval by the highest court in the land—has been cleared.
The story now has to be about how the Patient Protection Act takes power away from insurance companies and gives it to patients. The problem that existed before the law was that insurance companies had taken over health care, dictating to patients what care they could receive by denying coverage for treatments and procedures prescribed by doctors. Decisions about medical care were based on profit for insurance companies, not the needs of patients.
The Patient Protection Act turns the tables. Patients' rights are now protected. The many provisions of the PPA are all designed to make health care more available, more affordable, and most importantly, more effective for more patients.
Free-riders are going to be held accountable to take responsibility for their own health care, or pay a fine through the IRS. That way costs will go down for everyone. Responsible Americans will be able to keep what they have or pick and choose the health insurance plan that best meets their needs and budgets, and no insurance company can turn them down.
Americans wanted these protections in 2009, they still want them today, and now, thanks to the Patient Protection Act, they have them.
Messaging strategy: Take control of the conversations on health care reform. Don't get mired in healthcare statistics, or argue about taxes vs. penalties, or play the Republican game by defending government. Healthcare reform is not about government, it's about patients.
This reframes it to how the Patient Protection Act benefits real people and takes power away from insurance companies. The Republicans have been trying since 2009 to push the false choice of patients' freedom and access versus "government takeover." It IS all about patients, but the villains are the health insurance companies and the heroes of this story are the Democrats and Barack Obama who fought hard for these protections for patients and ushered in a new normal for how insurance companies will be required to treat their patients ... like patients and not pocketbooks!
So the more we start talking about how the Patient Protection Act helps protect patients (one great way to do that is to call it the Patient Protection Act every time you refer to it), the more we're glad to hear them talk about patient-centered health care. That's OUR story, and it's been our story all along!
- Patients are now protected from being denied insurance due to a pre-existing condition.
- Patients are now protected from having no recourse when their insurance company tries to deny coverage.
- Patients are now protected from lifetime caps on their benefits.
- Patients are now protected against being dropped by their insurance carrier when they get sick.
- Patients are now protected against the loss of a job meaning the loss of health care coverage!
It doesn't get any more patient-centered than that!
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