Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Death and taxes

This is a repost of a piece that I did for BMJ's doc2doc blog.

There is a familiar adage: "There are two things in life that you can't avoid -- death and taxes". The opponents of the US healthcare reform clearly tapped into this adage to formulate their anti-Obama strategy. Since the Americans seem to fear death and taxes more than anything, even being swindled by insurance company executives or losing their healthcare coverage if they lose their jobs, this has been a supremely effective way to shape the counter message. The cherry on top is that it leverages the perennial paranoia of socialism, so familiar to the generation that grew up during the cold war.

The message goes like this: This healthcare reform is going to broaden government powers, so that it will intrude in your lives. This newly empowered government will take away not only your money (as in raise your taxes), but your life as well (hence the "death panels" talk). Here you go, a tidy message combining all of our primal fears -- death, taxes, socialism. Who could ask for a better marketing tool? And who could ask for a more gullible audience accustomed to dealing with complex issues in fortune cookie sound bites?

1 comment:

  1. Marya, I agree with you that trying to boil the opposition to healthcare reform down to sound bites does result in an over simplified message that is focused on fear and emotion.

    However, the same cand be said for the arguments being made for the specific reforms proposed by the Democratic party. Since public opinion has turned against reforms, it is the administration that has resorted to scare tactics and disinformation to sell their program. They have targeted the majority of people who are very satisfied with their coverage and tried to scare them into thinking they are one disease away from their insurance company cancelling their policy and forcing them into destitution.

    They are also dishonsestly charactarizing the insurance industry as being evil corporations making record profits, when in fact the industry makes relatively modest profits of 3.5 to 5%.

    They argue that a public option is required to provide competition. When in fact it is government regulation that prevents competition across state lines. We already have upwards of 1500 insurance companies. Adding a public option that makes it 1501 is not going the effect the competitive market. This not about competition it is about government control.

    They are deceptive about the cost of their plan and how it can be paid for. First, they use specious arguments that "preventative care" will reduce costs, when current scientific research and the OMB have both stated definitively that they type of preventative care being proposed actually costs more.

    They suggest that they can simply cut $500B from Medicare without impacting benefits. This is riduculous.

    Finally, they claim that we can simply tax the top 10% of wage earners to pay for the program. This kind of pandering to the majority is politically expedient but we are already spending well beyond our available resorces and will need to raise taxes to close the currently forecaste deficits.

    There has been fear mongering and disinformation coming from the right but it is no match for the disinformation produced by the state sponsor propaganda machine that is selling this program.