Favorite

Selling lies on health care 

If Republicans seize the White House and Congress, they should name the Washington national airport for the man who was responsible.

That would not be Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, or any of the legions of billionaires who jammed fundraisers in Aspen and the Hamptons and doubled the previous biggest political treasury in history to get it done.

Instead, let's make it the Dr. Frank Luntz National Airport.

Luntz is the beefy Republican political consultant and pollster who stole the hearts of the superrich 20 years ago when he showed that if they called the popular inheritance tax on rich estates "the death tax" it would become instantly unpopular because people would think a tax was imposed on mama's death and would take away even the poor widow's mite. In 10 years, Congress repealed the estate tax, and the nation breathed a sigh of relief.

In the early spring of 2009, as congressional committees gathered for the year-long process of writing a law to extend health insurance to everyone, Luntz assembled focus groups to see what catchphrases would turn Americans against the process. He sent his analysis to Republicans in Congress and the money groups that were ready to fight the bill, whatever it would be. A few of Luntz's slogans created visceral reactions.

"Cut Medicare benefits" was one. Mention of "government takeover of health care" upset everyone. So did the suggestion that "government bureaucrats," not patients consulting with their doctors, would make health decisions. "Rationing" caused people to see red. "Bigger national debt" scared them, too.

So, Luntz advised the party that whatever Democrats came up with, Republicans should avoid specifics and use those terms to describe the reforms. Never mind that the bill would do none of those things. Luntz had written a best-selling book on the theme that in politics facts do not matter as much as what people think they hear.

Republican leaders followed his plan to the letter, and the Chamber of Commerce and insurance, pharmaceutical and right-wing organizations pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into media advertising and mailers to the homes of seniors warning of the draconian effects of the coming health law.

As always, the tide smothered the lame truthtelling that the authors of the Affordable Care Act, like Arkansas's politically inept Blanche Lincoln, offered. Obamacare became immensely unpopular and swept Republicans into Congress in 2010. The party is banking on its promise to repeal Obamacare to swing the presidential and congressional elections.

Republican leaders have never wavered from Luntz's strategy. They stick to the script and skirt arguments over Obamacare's actual provisions. House Speaker John Boehner said last week that if people wanted to preserve the precious doctor-patient relationship they had to elect Republicans who would repeal Obamacare.

The slogans describe nothing about the Affordable Care Act. Take the threat to seniors. The law makes no cuts in Medicare benefits. Instead, as you would expect a bunch of Democrats to do, it adds a laundry list of new assistance for seniors: lower prescription drug costs, free preventive-care screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies for the rest of your life, and bonuses for family doctors and nurse practitioners who treat the elderly at any age.

Yes, the law does phase out the huge taxpayer bonuses to insurance companies that since 2004 has guaranteed them big profits if they sell Medicare Advantage plans.

The senior scare was aided by Sarah Palin's cry in 2009 that the law created "death panels" of bureaucrats who would decide whether Grandma should die rather than get life-saving treatment. It was a complete hoax, and Palin later would say she never meant it literally, only that if all the poor people became entitled to medical care there would not be enough care for everybody, which would lead to rationing and the elderly sick would have to be dispensed with.

Hoax or not, others picked up the death panel idea. An Internet story quoted a hospital emergency room executive in Tennessee as saying that starting in 2013 Obamacare required everyone over the age of 75 to go before a local ethics committee for a decision on whether they could be given life-saving surgery. The doctor who was quoted immediately denied saying it or that the law provided any such thing, but the message went viral. It is received wisdom now that Obamacare somehow pulls the plug on people who reach 75. I'm four months away.

Here is what the "government takeover of health care" amounts to: The government stops insurance companies from ending coverage when people get acute illnesses like cancer, prevents them from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, stops them from ending insurance for critically ill children and limits their profits and overhead to 15 or 20 percent of the premiums they collect. More than that and they must rebate the money to customers. Millions of rebate checks will go out next month and every August hereafter.

But, as Luntz had explained, facts don't matter much.

Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Speaking of Frank Luntz

  • Y'all come: State employees get Republican invite UPDATE

    June 17, 2016
    A number of state employees wrote yesterday to report their surprise at this invitation to a Republican Party fund-raiser landing in their state e-mail box. By several accounts, the invitation hit every box in one major state agency. Anybody else get it? /more/
  • Republicans should name an airport for Frank Luntz

    July 17, 2012
    Ernest Dumas writes this week about the tribute Republicans should pay to Frank Luntz, the message master whose sloganeering — from the disingenuous to the blatantly dishonest — has done everything from killing the estate tax to making evil out of health care legislation that's good for tens of millions of people. /more/
  • The GOP's own Obamacare

    April 5, 2011
    Ernie Dumas has done it again. He explains how the Republicans will use deceit to wreck Medicare and Medicaid, in part by setting up an insurance system similar in many respects to the "Obamacare" they loathe. /more/
  • Where the Democrats failed

    November 2, 2010
    The Democrats, cruising to a big defeat, cut taxes, reduced deficits and expanded health care coverage. /more/
  • More »

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • No sense of decency

    July 16 had all the attributes of the day when Donald Trump approached that "tide in the affairs of men" where they take the fateful step that leads on to either good fortune in life or misery. Good fortune, you sense, is not going to be the outcome this time.
    • Jul 19, 2018
  • Punishing the poor

    It behooves nearly every generation of Arkansas political leaders to write another chapter in the enduring and simple annals of punishing the poor.
    • Jul 12, 2018
  • Supreme Republicans

    Every day's developments produce plenty of cause for hysterics, but I'm afraid the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will not prove to be much cause for either the woe or jubilation of the past week.
    • Jul 5, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • Shrugging off sulfides

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a shocker on its front page Sunday. The rotten-egg odor from the Koch brothers' sprawling paper plant at Crossett is still making people sick, but the state's pollution control agency is unaware of the problem.
    • Mar 29, 2018

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • No sense of decency

    July 16 had all the attributes of the day when Donald Trump approached that "tide in the affairs of men" where they take the fateful step that leads on to either good fortune in life or misery. Good fortune, you sense, is not going to be the outcome this time.
    • Jul 19, 2018
  • Punishing the poor

    It behooves nearly every generation of Arkansas political leaders to write another chapter in the enduring and simple annals of punishing the poor.
    • Jul 12, 2018
  • Supreme Republicans

    Every day's developments produce plenty of cause for hysterics, but I'm afraid the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will not prove to be much cause for either the woe or jubilation of the past week.
    • Jul 5, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • The Malvern connection

    If you read the daily newspaper or the Arkansas Blog you might have seen reporting on activities of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.
  • Outmatched

    It's almost proverbial to say that every bully is a coward at heart. But that's wishful thinking. In politics, many strongmen are like Vladimir Putin: ruthless, cunning and sadistic. As the world witnessed in Helsinki, a posturing blowhard like Donald Trump is simply no match for the Russian dictator.

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation