Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dear Mr. President:

In watching your recent town hall meetings on healthcare, it seems to me that you're losing the pro-healthcare reform message to the forces arrayed against it -- significantly the insurance industry, with its $1.4 million daily investment aimed at spreading fear and misinformation among vulnerable populations, such as our seniors.

I wish you'd hone your message. For example, why haven't you mentioned the waste, fraud, and abuse of the insurance industry? Twenty cents out of every dollar is spent by insurers on non-healthcare delivery; lining the pockets of CEOs and shareholders, and on advertising to defeat your plan. The other day you were at AARP. Their Medicare supplement is insured by UnitedHealth Group, which posted a 155% profit and had agreed to a $400 million settlement with the AMA and New York Attorney General for defrauding its customers over a period of years. The Lewin Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth, has been dishing out misleading statistics in talking points to Republicans in the House and Senate, including Senator Grassley, slamming your public option.

The White House response: crickets.

Sure, you've spoken of the public option in town halls, but not once have you specifically pushed back against your opposition: the health insurance industry and Congressional Republicans. Why?

Rather than giving Congress a clear direction on your priorities, drawing a line in the sand, you have allowed the tail to wag the dog. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is prancing around the Senate halls like a Maharajah with his loyal sidekick, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. Their closed door meetings of the so-called Group of Six have resulted in the evisceration of key Democratic provisions and priorities of yours, most notably the public option. All of this to peel off two or three Republican votes so that it can be called bipartisan?

With all due respect, Mr. President, we didn't vote for change, we didn't hand you huge majorities in the House, and a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, to have the fate of meaningful healthcare reform for all Americans decided, or rather destroyed, by Senator Chuck Grassley, who is a shill for the insurance industry.

I'm among a growing number of Democrats who are outraged by Senator Baucus's capitulation. We believe Senator Baucus should be divested of his chairmanship. Senator Rockefeller favors this as well. We hear of all the hard work the Senator is putting into this effort, the long hours. The problem is, he's not working on behalf of the American people; he's working for the insurance industry. Are we really to believe it makes no difference that Senator Baucus is the second highest recipient of insurance industry campaign donations, behind Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell?

The other day I saw a photo of the Group of Six: Senators Baucus, Grassley, and Snowe were chortling, while the Democrats around the table looked grim. This was in the wake of the news the Group will slash the public option and other Democratic priorities. Not surprisingly, Aetna stock rose 12% on this expectation. One observer noted that insurance industry CEOs would be exchanging high fives in their corporate boardrooms.

I know you're a student of history, Mr. President, and if I could suggest a role model in this fight, it would be Bobby Kennedy. One reason that Bobby could bridge the great divides in American society, communicating as easily with inner-city blacks and latinos as with white conservative hardhats and rural voters is that he didn't pander to any of these groups. He told it to them straight, he didn't back down, and he couched his message in clear moral terms. When he said something was unacceptable, people knew he meant it.

We're losing this fight, Mr. President. If you don't push back against the powerful anti-reform forces, we will not get meaningful healthcare reform for all Americans. Honestly, I'm tired of hearing of the $80 billion the pharmaceuticals pledged to "give back" to us. They're not philanthropies. They stand to reap windfall profits (as do the private insurers) from a $1 trillion healthcare reform package without a public option that can negotiate down prescription drug prices and ensure competition.

In getting out your message, Mr. President, my advice is to take a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook. One thing he did to great effect communicating to the American people was to personalize his message. When you mention the "heartbreaking" letters you receive from people with life-altering health crises, rather than speak of them generically, I wish you would read some of these letters in your speeches. The American people relate well to personalized accounts that humanize the issue.

We can still win, Mr. President, and you have our support. But we need you to hone your message, to be more specific about the reforms and the opposition's lies, to be more like Bobby.



1 comment:

PatEsposisto said...

Great letter. The tone is respectful throughout (we DO still support and believe in him), but you offer specific tactics that can be (need to be) used. Yes, we need to expose the insurance companies' profits and not back down, and expose the people who gain from these profits. The American people don't like the lack of balance in our nation, but they respond too easily to scare tactics and fall back into safety zones. Hard facts work best, and yes, human stories. Thanks for sending the letter. I hope he reads it and makes use of the suggestions.