Memo to Chuck Grassley: It's not 1993 anymore

Senator Chuck Grassley laid out his case against a “government-run” health care plan on the Senate floor yesterday. He used some of the same arguments he’s been making in conference calls with reporters and in his guest editorial at Politico.

I don’t know whether Grassley and the insurance lobby will be able to scare Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus away from supporting a public health insurance option.

However, after reading the highlights from recent opinion research that Richard Kirsch summarized at the Health Care for America Now blog, I am confident that the American public will not buy rehashed Republican talking points from 1993. For more on this point, follow me after the jump.

Like his piece in Politico, Grassley’s remarks on the Senate floor borrowed heavily from conservative strategist Frank Luntz’s advice to Congressional Republicans (click here for analysis of Luntz’s memo).

Senator Jeff Merkley has already exposed some of the more deceptive elements of Luntz’s messaging:

So expect a massive misinformation campaign coming to a health care debate near you.  Opponents using Dr. Luntz’s doublespeak will argue for a “balanced, common sense approach” to health care but what they really want is to keep the system the way it is.  They’ll say that a public plan will not be “patient centered,” but their real goal is to block accessible health care for every American.  They’ll say reform will deny Americans “choice” even when every American will be allowed to keep their health insurance and their doctor.  They’ll claim that the “quality of care will go down,” while callously ignoring the fact that millions of Americans have no health care at all and millions more are denied the medications and procedures they need.  

What we are seeing, yet again, is that while Dr. Luntz and his clients may have excellent polling data, they are utterly clueless about what the American people want.

I wouldn’t be too sure about that “excellent” polling data. Republican scare tactics and a massive nationwide ad campaign by the insurance industry diminished public support for health care reform in 1993, but we have good reason to believe Americans won’t be fooled again.

I hope that all Congressional Democrats will read Richard Kirsch’s post at Health Care for America Now. He offers good advice on how to make an effective case for health care reform. But to my mind, Kirsch’s most important point for Democrats is that the “1993-1994 Republican playbook of attacking ‘government’ health care” will not work:

And the reason that Luntz’s recycled prescription won’t cure Republican’s political ailments is revealed in another one of Luntz’s remarks to the Republican House members: “…because the American people blame the insurance companies more than almost anybody else for why health care is such a mess in this country right now.” […]

We at Health Care for America Now anticipated the fear-mongering attacks that Luntz is promoting and found that if we respond aggressively, we win the argument hands down.

Several rounds of research done for Health Care for America Now and others confirm that Americans take a dim view of the health insurance industry and believe that government is needed to fix the health care mess. We tested many descriptions of the health insurance industry – some favorable and others not – and here’s the one that voters affirmed by four-out-five voters (78%): health insurance companies put profits before people. […]

Earlier this year we threw many of the right-wing arguments – “rationing”, “government bureaucracy”, “losing private health insurance and being dumped into a public plan” – against the choice of a public health insurance plan, and we found that in every case, the public favors the pro-public health insurance option. In fact, in most cases, they prefer it by margins of better than two-to-one.

Too many Americans have seen insurance company bureaucrats deny coverage for their own or their loved ones’ medically necessary treatment.

Too many Americans with health insurance have gone through hell, delayed treatment for chronic illnesses, depleted their life savings or ended up deep in debt because of gaps in their insurance coverage.

Too many Americans have lost their health insurance after losing a job (see also here). The Center for American Progress estimated earlier this month that

2.4 million workers have lost the health coverage their jobs provided since the start of the recession, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately, 1.3 million of these losses have occurred in the last four months. More than 320,000 Americans lost their employer-provided health insurance in March alone, which amounts to approximately 10,680 workers a day.

Many employed Americans have dropped their health insurance or switched to less comprehensive plans because premiums have gone up much more rapidly than wages or the rate of inflation.

The failures of the status quo discredit Grassley’s doomsday scenario regarding “government-run” health care and warnings about “government interference in a doctor’s decision for the patient.”

The only question is whether the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats will have the courage to insist on a real public health insurance option that competes with private insurers, or whether they will be cowed into backing some kind of fake “public plan” that Grassley could accept.

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  • The Center for Rural Affairs (in Nebraska) released a report...

    about rural Americans and farmers who lack health insurance or are underinsured.  The full report is on their website:  

    Some staggering statistics from their press release:

    The report found:

    Rural residents were found to be twice as likely to be underinsured as urban residents

    8% of the general population depends on individual policies with reduced benefits and high deductibles, but 33% of farmers and ranchers rely on such policies

    25% of non-corporate farms and ranches carry medical debt and 25% of that number report that medical expense “contribute to their financial problems”

    Approximately 50% of rural employees work for small businesses, as compared to 37% of urban employees, and small business employees are twice as likely to be uninsured  

    • good point

      My friend who used to farm got out of farming in part because she couldn’t afford health benefits and she was doing hard physical labor having a history of knee problems.