Friday, July 31, 2009

Back to the Future! Pelosi Calls Insurers “Villains”

Like we didn't know it would get to this.

This from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s news conference yesterday:

"The public option--that's where the insurance companies are making their attacks-––it's almost immoral what they are doing. Of course they've been immoral all along. They are villains in this, they have been part of the problem in a major way. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening and the public has to know...They had a good thing going for a long time at the expense of the American people and the health of our country. This is the fight of our lives."

Guess the days of everyone being at the table and getting along are over.

I’m not interested in getting into a conversation here about whether insurance companies are villains or not. I expect most of you are clearly on one side of that issue or another and that is not likely to change.

I would like to talk about the politics of Speaker Pelosi choosing to go after the insurers.

It’s clear that there is a House Democratic leadership strategy brewing to demonize the insurance companies to counter the Republicans' success to date in the demonizing of “Democratic attempts to put government in charge of your health care.”

The August recess will clearly be about one side trying to get and/or keep the high political ground on health care (not to be confused with the high road on health care). Just how this war of words turns out will likely determine whether this attempt to pass a big health care bill (note I did not say health care reform) goes somewhere or crashes and burns like all of the others.

It is disappointing to see that after months of intensive discussion about what we should do with our unsustainable health care system it’s all boiling down to the same old battle between “villainous” insurance companies versus “inept government control” of health care.

I will also suggest that Speaker Pelosi is doing the same thing Mrs. Clinton did in 1993—using her polling data to determine the way to sell health care is to go after the health insurance industry.

I recall Democratic pollster Celinda Lake’s data from a year ago; 82% of the people who voted in the prior election had health insurance for everyone in their family. 92% were themselves covered by health insurance.

The vast majority of people who vote have private health insurance and they are very happy to have it. They are very worried about keeping it and its growing out-of-pocket costs but that is different than being ready to ditch it.

In 1993, much of the undoing of the Clinton health plan occurred when opponents were able to convince voters, the vast majority of which had good insurance they wanted to keep, that their coverage was in jeopardy. In 1993, Mrs. Clinton made the decision to advance her health care plan making the insurance industry the villain. She did not understand the health care version of the haves versus the have-nots in this country and it cost her dearly.

It’s sort of like the difference between voters having little respect for Congress but liking their Congressional representative.

The health care debate is now devolving not evolving.

Maybe that is because neither side really has a real health care reform strategy to sell in positive terms to the American people.

I will suggest that both sides have tried to do a health care bill on the political cheap--arguing that we can fix this busted system and no one will have to lose or sacrifice to do it. Of course that is not true and all it does is give the other side plenty of room for criticism when you put your plan on the table--which is then easily countered with references to "villains" and "inept government control."

Back to the future.
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