Torn From The GOP Playbook: The Luntz Health Care Memo

Mike Allen gives us a page out of the GOP’s playbook on their effort to block health care reform:

Here are some suggested arguments for Republicans that [GOP pollster Frank] Luntz calls “clear winners”:

“It could lead to the government setting standards of care, instead of doctors who really know what’s best.”

“It could lead to the government rationing care, making people stand in line and denying treatment like they do in other countries with national healthcare.”

“President Obama wants to put the Washington bureaucrats in charge of healthcare. I want to put the medical professionals in charge, and I want patients as an equal partner.”

Luntz’s 10 pointers in “The Language of Healthcare 2009”:

(1) Humanize your approach. Abandon and exile ALL references to the “healthcare system.” From now on, healthcare is about people. Before you speak, think of the three components of tone that matter most: Individualize. Personalize. Humanize.

(2) Acknowledge the “crisis” or suffer the consequences. If you say there is no healthcare crisis, you give your listener permission to ignore everything else you say. It is a credibility killer for most Americans. A better approach is to define the crisis in your terms. “If you’re one of the millions who can’t afford healthcare, it is a crisis.” Better yet, “If some bureaucrat puts himself between you and your doctor, denying you exactly what you need, that’s a crisis.” And the best: “If you have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatment, that’s a healthcare crisis.”

(3) “Time” is the government healthcare killer. As Mick Jagger once sang, “Time is on Your Side.” Nothing else turns people against the government takeover of healthcare than the realistic expectation that it will result in delayed and potentially even denied treatment, procedures and/or medications. “Waiting to buy a car or even a house won’t kill you. But waiting for the healthcare you need – could. Delayed care is denied care.”

(4) The arguments against the Democrats’ healthcare plan must center around “politicians,” “bureaucrats,” and “Washington” … not the free market, tax incentives, or competition. Stop talking economic theory and start personalizing the impact of a government takeover of healthcare. They don’t want to hear that you’re opposed to government healthcare because it’s too expensive (any help from the government to lower costs will be embraced) or because it’s anti-competitive (they don’t know about or care about current limits to competition). But they are deathly afraid that a government takeover will lower their quality of care – so they are extremely receptive to the anti-Washington approach. It’s not an economic issue. It’s a bureaucratic issue.

(5) The healthcare denial horror stories from Canada & Co. do resonate, but you have to humanize them. You’ll notice we recommend the phrase “government takeover” rather than “government run” or “government controlled” It’s because too many politician say “we don’t want a government run healthcare system like Canada or Great Britain” without explaining those consequences. There is a better approach. “In countries with government run healthcare, politicians make YOUR healthcare decisions. THEY decide if you’ll get the procedure you need, or if you are disqualified because the treatment is too expensive or because you are too old. We can’t have that in America.”

(6) Healthcare quality = “getting the treatment you need, when you need it.” That is how Americans define quality, and so should you. Once again, focus on the importance of timeliness, but then add to it the specter of “denial.” Nothing will anger Americans more than the chance that they will be denied the healthcare they need for whatever reason. This is also important because it is an attribute of a government healthcare system that the Democrats CANNOT offer. So say it. “The plan put forward by the Democrats will deny people treatments they need and make them wait to get the treatments they are allowed to receive.”

(7) “One-size-does-NOT-fit-all.” The idea that a “committee of Washington bureaucrats” will establish the standard of care for all Americans and decide who gets what treatment based on how much it costs is anathema to Americans. Your approach? Call for the “protection of the personalized doctor-patient relationship.” It allows you to fight to protect and improve something good rather than only fighting to prevent something bad.

(8) WASTE, FRAUD, and ABUSE are your best targets for how to bring down costs. Make no mistake: the high cost of healthcare is still public enemy number one on this issue – and why so many Americans (including Republicans and conservatives) think the Democrats can handle healthcare better than the GOP. You can’t blame it on the lack of a private market; in case you missed it, capitalism isn’t exactly in vogue these days. But you can and should blame it on the waste, fraud, and abuse that is rampant in anything and everything the government controls.

(9) Americans will expect the government to look out for those who truly can’t afford healthcare. Here is the perfect sentence for addressing cost and the limited role for government that wins you allies rather than enemies: “A balanced, common sense approach that provides assistance to those who truly need it and keeps healthcare patient-centered rather than government-centered for everyone.”

(10) It’s not enough to just say what you’re against. You have to tell them what you’re for. It’s okay (and even necessary) for your campaign to center around why this healthcare plan is bad for America. But if you offer no vision for what’s better for America, you’ll be relegated to insignificance at best and labeled obstructionist at worst. What Americans are looking for in healthcare that your “solution” will provide is, in a word, more: “more access to more treatments and more doctors…with less interference from insurance companies and Washington politicians and special interests.”

[Emphasis mine]

The GOP used to thrive on messaging memos like these, so expect to hear these talking points repeated ad nauseum by nearly every Republican politican and conservative commentator under the sun.

Problem is, this memo does nothing but craft and take down an elaborate strawman instead of commenting on the Democrats’ actual health care reform plan.

In reality, Democrats are proposing a program that would help Americans without health insurance buy it from the same private corporations that everyone else gets their health insurance from. There is also a public option that would let people choose to either retain their private health insurance or opt to enroll in a government plan.  Note the use of the words “option”, “choose” and “opt” in that last sentence–nobody would ever be forced into the public option, contrary to what the Luntz memo suggests.

And keep in mind that the GOP has no alternative plan.  They can attack the Democratic health care reform proposal all they’d like, but America is facing a health care crisis; without a viable alternative plan, all the talking points in the world won’t do the GOP any good.

Hell, even the GOP’s new rebranding committee doesn’t have a plan:

Responding to [small business owner Ed] McKee’s question concerning the dramatic health care cost hike, [House Minority Whip Eric] Cantor said “that should be a sure sign we ought to be promoting anything that can try to bring health care costs down.” But rather than offering any ideas or policy plans for addressing health care costs, Cantor launched into a set of attacks on the health systems in the UK and Canada, saying any reform should not reflect a “government takeover.” The National Council’s policy paper on health care is similarly vague and lacks a single policy plan.

Cantor is not offering any of the promised “new policy ideas.” Instead, he is rehashing tired straw man arguments against the single-payer systems of Canada and the UK. The Obama administration has consistently opposed a single-payer program.