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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sebelius: A Challenge for August

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has an op-ed, “Lifting A Burden Of Worry” in today’s WaPo, with simple, elegantly-stated message points that health care reform advocates can tap to both challenge reform obstructionists and help win support from those who have concerns. It’s not hard to imagine Sebelius’s op-ed being re-worked into multiple formats — persuasive ad spots for traditional and new media, as well as speeches by and media interviews with reform supporters. As Sebelius defines the central problem in simple terms:

The current health-care system gives insurance companies all the power. They get to pick and choose who gets a policy. They can deny coverage because of a preexisting condition. They can offer coverage only at exorbitant rates — or offer coverage so thin that it’s no coverage at all. Americans are left to worry about whether they’ll get laid off and lose their insurance or wake up from surgery with a $10,000 bill because they didn’t read the fine print on their policy.

That concern is shared by millions of Americans, even those who have some skepticism about the way reform legislation is shaping up. Sebelius also highlights a huge “hidden” expense of the current system:

…Right now, many entrepreneurs are paralyzed by our fractured health insurance system. They know that if they leave their job, they might not be able to get insurance for their families. So they, and their innovations, stay put. Health reform means unleashing America’s entrepreneurs to chase their big ideas.

It’s a hidden cost which cripples American entrepreneurs in competition with their counterparts in nations that have portable health security for all. Sebelius also does a nice, succinct job of calling out the fear-mongers:

…We’ve learned over the past 20 years that “socialized medicine” and “government-run health care” are code words for “don’t change anything.” With some insurers raising premiums by more than 25 percent and 14,000 people losing their health insurance every day, Americans want to hear something more from their leaders than “wait and see” and “more of the same.”

She then provides one of the best short statements that encapsulates what Americans want:

Health insurance is fundamentally about peace of mind. If you have good insurance, you don’t have to worry about an accident or sudden illness. You know that whatever happens, you and your family will be taken care of.

The public option provides a reasonable alternative to unbridled domination of our health care by the insurance industry, explains Sebelius:

By giving Americans choices, health reform will switch the roles. Americans will get peace of mind and insurance companies will start getting nervous. They will know that if they don’t deliver a great value, their customers will flee. So they will start offering better coverage.

And the vision:

…We have a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of all Americans, insured and uninsured alike….We can make investments in prevention, wellness and health information technology that will allow the health-care system to deliver incredible results at prices we can all afford. Imagine a system in which your doctor spends as much time trying to keep you healthy as treating you when you’re sick, in which you and your doctor have all the information you need to choose the treatments that work best for you, in which you never have to fill out the same paperwork twice. Health reform is the first step in that direction.

Secretary Sebelius has done an outstanding job of simplifying the message that can help cut through the obstructionist fog and bring health security to millions. The August recess provides the opportunity for Dems and reform advocates to spread it far and wide.

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