Obama's teachable moment today

Better late than never, but the White House has a new approach to selling healthcare -- convince the insured

Published August 11, 2009 4:46PM (EDT)

This AP report about changes in the Obama administration's approach to selling its healthcare plan seems like the right idea ... if a bit overdue:

WASHINGTON -- His approval ratings slipping, President Barack Obama is retooling his message on health care overhaul, aiming to win over Americans who already have insurance.

Polling shows that Americans—especially those who already have coverage—are skeptical of the Democratic proposals to expand coverage to the nearly 50 millions who lack it. So Obama will use a potentially boisterous town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire to highlight how his proposals would affect workers whose employers provide their health insurance.

Critics of the president's plan — his top domestic priority — have grabbed headlines by disrupting town hall meetings, putting the White House on the defensive.

The political reality is that any healthcare reform will require approval and support from a significant share of Americans who are insured, including the subset of the insured who not only have coverage but like and do not want to change their insurance situation.  I find it hard to believe the Obama team didn't realize this from the jump, but presuming they did, they now realize they haven't done a good enough job explaining their plan to these Americans.

On this count, it must be said that merely offering repeated assurances from the president and his spokespeople that those who like their current coverage will not be forced to change is insufficient to allay concerns. Just because people don't want to change their insurance status -- and even if they are confident about the administration's promises that they won't have to change -- doesn't mean their concerns about why it is necessary to change the system in other, broader ways simply vanish. And such assurances definitely do not quell their worries about having to pay, or pay more, for those changes.

More to the point, the insured have more political clout than the uninsured, so any plan designed to help the uninsured sends up a red flag that this will just be a big government transfer. The single hardest part of the political equation is therefore explaining how expanding coverage can lower costs, which at first blush sounds contradictory. And just stating that this is so isn't necessarily all that convincing. It takes some explaining, particularly with respect to hidden costs of Americans being uninsured, and the higher premiums the insured pay as a result.

Meanwhile, the White House sent out the following alert to the media a few moments before noon, and in advance of the president's upcoming, 1 p.m. EST town hall in New Hampshire:

First, yesterday we rolled out www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck, a website dedicated to debunking the misinformation and baseless smears that are cropping up daily as part of the national debate on health care. The site gives administration officials and experts a place to refute viral misinformation with an aggressive, direct response, and it allows people to take the information into their own hands and share it with friends, family and colleagues through social networks. Take a look at the site here: www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck

Second, we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss a new report released last week by the Department of Health and Human Services on the ways health insurance reform will benefit the District of Columbia: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/statehealthreform/districtofcolumbia.html [Presumably, the jurisdictional reference and link vary depending on the state of the recipient.]

Finally, the White House Office of Health Reform released a fact sheet yesterday outlining the ways in which the current health care system leaves millions of Americans behind by denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Pre-existing conditions make adequate health care unavailable for millions of Americans and cause thousands of Americans each year to lose health insurance when they need it most. Read the fact sheet here: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/denied_coverage/

Today is a teachable moment, folks -- one far tougher than having beers at the White House with Skip Gates and Joe Crowley. We'll have to see how Obama's teacher-in-chief skills, and the White House's new messaging strategy, go over. Stay tuned, as we will be blogging heavily during and after the presser.

By Salon Staff

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