Love Health Care Reform but Can’t Stand the Name?

Are we easily repulsed of what is good for us because we’ve been psychologically influenced to reject those things that feel emotionally “icky”?

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that 59% of those polled are not supportive of the Affordable Care Act(ACA) that was passed in a Democrat-controlled Congress last March.  37% are supportive.  But those numbers don’t reflect the reality that 13% of those who are opposed to it are so because they don’t think it goes far enough or is not Progressive enough.  This dynamic reflects what FOX doesn’t tells it viewers on a daily basis; that half the nation IS behind the minimum changes this health care reform bill creates.  I’d like to demonstrate here how the messaging from FOX and right-wing radio  impact how people vote against their own self-interest.

The CNN poll also showed that 43% think the health care reform bill is “too liberal”.  The “liberal” things that this bill includes are:

  • no longer being denied coverage for a pre-existing condition
  • no caps on coverage; insurers have been able to put an amount on how much they would cover for long-term illnesses.
  • limits to 15% on how much insurance companies can use your premiums for things other than health coverage for you.
  • For seniors, 50% discount for name-brand drugs in the Medicare “donut hole” along with benefits that provide free preventive services and free annual wellness visits.  Existing guaranteed Medicare-covered benefits won’t be reduced or taken away.
  • Small business tax credits to enable them to compete with larger companies, along with other cost saving benefits.
  • insurance companies won’t be able to drop you when you get sick just because you made a mistake on your coverage application.
  • children under age 26 can still be included on their parents policies
  • all Americans joining new insurance plans have the freedom to choose from any primary care provider, OB-GYN, or pediatrician in their health plan’s network, or emergency care outside of the plan’s network, without a referral.
  • women who join a new health care plan can receive recommended preventive services, like mammograms, new baby care and well-child visits, with no out-of-pocket costs.
  • women will  no longer be charged more for individual insurance policies simply because of their gender.
  • expands coverage for people with disabilities

Now to be honest, these are not really liberal ideas.  These are areas of concerns for moderates and conservatives too. But for people to reject this health care reform bill because they feel it’s “too liberal”, really shows how successful right-wing conservatives have been in demonizing liberalism than it does about what the bill really offers.

When confronted about their opposition to the bill the top item on conservative lists is the individual mandate; a Republican talking point they favored when they offered counter proposals to Clinton’s health care in the 90’s.  But this may soon fall to the wayside anyway after it reaches a conservative Supreme Court.

What arguments remain against it from conservatives are baseless assumptions (documented here) that have been aptly debunked, provided you get some of your news from sources other than right-wing radio, blogs and FOX.  So why would people vote against health care reform that is in their self-interest if their only fear is that it is too liberal?  Political ideology aside, why would you vote for something that gives you some control over the health care industry that most Americans have not had, ever?

One plausible explanation is how the messaging by the bill’s opponents have succeeded in concealing the virtues of health care reform.  They have partially succeeded in doing this with terminology that evokes hate and fear and is Orwellian in nature.  The term health care reform adversaries use for the ACA is “Obamacare”, a pejorative label that was most likely created by Frank Luntz, a conservative consultant and pollster whose book  “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” is all about exploiting the emotional content of language.

In a PBS Frontline interview back in December of 2003 Luntz told his interviewer that he seeks to utilize language that our emotions react to, not our intellect.  Through the use of emotional words that he gleans from focus groups, Luntz assists conservatives in messaging that doesn’t require critical thinking, only reacting to basic feelings people have even though they may not be fully understood by those who have them.

For example, people who hate Obama for whatever reason are inclined to vote against anything with his name attached to it, even if it means rejecting something they would otherwise be for.  The word “liberal” has the same negative connotation with conservatives and many moderates because it has all too often been associated with un-American behavior and a socialist agenda by effective messaging people on the Right, like Luntz.

Liberals have their own emotional messaging guru in George Lakoff.  However compared to Luntz, Lakoff’s approach is not to find disparaging emotional triggers to influence people’s vote away from something but to frame policy initiatives and issues through use of “nurturant value” metaphors to draw people into the public narrative.   Care must be taken by both sides to hold onto their political values without totally rejecting opposing views simply because they’re not strictly in line with their own.

The oversimplification of writing something off or accepting it totally because it has been put in subtly critical black and white terms increases the political gridlock in this country.  People line up behind the emotional messages political camps send out rather than behind objective criteria they take the time to research.  But how many of us take the time to do that?  Not many, and this is where emotional messaging has the most effect.

This tactic may win some elections but in the long run it erodes the democratic process  that keep people close to the political powers who determine policy and the ways that they affect us, our families and our community.  It also dumbs us down to mere sound-bites that hit that emotional note the message-makers are looking for, hoping that we will indeed react emotionally rather than thoughtfully.

This appears to have succeed to a critical point with health care reform that we all agree we need but where 43% of the public are unwilling to support it unless presented in emotional terms they can connect with.  The failure of health care reform advocates to effectively counter-act the negative messaging by conservatives and corporate lobbyists is in part due to the fact that those people who consistently listen to sources that utilize emotional messaging from the Right, tend to be less familiar with the intellectual data that presents a more rounded and objective assessment of this important social issue.

How easily we are influenced by “emotional messaging” is disturbing.  By circumventing  our critical thinking skills this tactic seeks to influence how we vote, make purchases and determine our relationships with family and social acquaintances.  On this latter implication, think how quick you are to evaluate someone in the negative if they indicate they do or don’t support the health care reform legislation.  Conservative candidates automatically have to reject the benefits of the ACA simply because it has effectively been linked to an even bigger conservative evil – Liberalism; and so will those who are influenced by the conservative messaging of FOX and right-wing radio and blogs.

As a final thought, emotional messaging also has greater consequences for our society and the entire global culture.  Every advertisement is a carefully orchestrated emotional message to persuade a targeted group to buy something that they might otherwise never consider or even need.   But even more threatening is the emotional messaging that attempts to distract people via the Stepford Wife syndrome (SWS) by many multi-nationals corporations who attempt to make us consumer disciples while they trash our planet and determine policy that reduces our revenue as they shield themselves from criticism by painting the government as the true evil we face.  But this is a topic for another article.

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4 responses to “Love Health Care Reform but Can’t Stand the Name?

  1. I have had this discussion with my parents. They watched FOX news and saw the death panel thing and how seniors would be thrown aside and decided Obamacare would hurt us all. I told them “With this reform neither me nor your granddaughter would ever have to worry about being denied coverage or paying exorbitant premiums for pre-existing conditions. Also, don’t you see how it will help you?” They only heard the emotional messages and scare tactics put out by GOP. Once we discussed it in detail, they changed their minds. I think the emotional word pushers just love to promote fear to get their way. Such a freaking shame. I hope they change the name. I think then it would get better press.

  2. Back in the 1970s when the late Senator Ted Kennedy, wanted to have “Universal Health Care”, and we kept hearing from the right, was overflowing emergency rooms, looking for health care. Pure hog wash!

  3. The more parts of this bill that go into effect, the less I am hearing here in Arizona about the “horrors of Obamacare!” Of course, our governor and legislature are cutting thousands of citizens off of our health care rolls for lower income folks and denying transplants to dying people… so right now the new law looks good!

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