Dems Sharpen Health Message As Repeal Efforts Go Forward

January 18, 2011

Julie Rovner

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On NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats actually welcomed the GOP effort to try to repeal the new health law "because it gives us a second chance to make a first impression."

And so far, at least, Democrats seem to be taking that task seriously.

Rather than filling the airwaves with complicated policy-speak about what the law does and doesn’t do, Democrats are finally listening to the experts about how best to sell the health law. They spent the day Tuesday trotting out “real people” who are benefiting from the law and would be harmed by its repeal.

The day began with “Cathy’s Story,” posted on the White House blog. It told how small business owner Cathy Lynn Howell Allen from Marblehead, Ohio was able to get insurance for the first time in years thanks to the new high-risk pools created under the law. She has Lupus.

Next, there was a conference call held by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, featuring Dawn Josephson. Recently, Josephson was able to get insurance coverage for her son, who has an eye condition, because the law bans discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions.

Then, in the early afternoon, House Democratic leaders brought out a series of people who are getting some of the early benefits of the law. Among them was Edward Burke, a hemophiliac from Palm Harbor, Florida. Burke has grappled with lifetime limits on his health insurance policies; limits that are now illegal. He was profiled in a story on this very issue on Morning Edition last September.

So it seems Dems are listening to a series of recommendations made by a group of top polling and PR professionals last summer:

“Tell simple personal stories,” said the experts. Avoid things like “listing off benefits outside of any personal context.” Check out our story on yesterday’s All Things Considered.

Meanwhile, Republicans are hardly giving up their fight to repeal the law.

This morning, the American Action Forum, a GOP think tank headed by former Congressional Budget Office Director and John McCain economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin, issued a letter signed by 200 economists and other experts arguing that repealing the law would “promote job growth and help to restore the federal government to fiscal balance.”

That letter directly contradicts a letter signed by two dozen more left-leaning economists last March. That one said that the then about-to-be law included “important elements of fiscal sustainability.”

Don’t despair, however, if you think there is no bipartisanship to be found anywhere in the health debate. The Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by four former Senate Majority leaders, two Democratic and two Republicans, announced today a new effort to help states implement the new health overhaul law.

It's not the bill that I would have drafted,” said former GOP Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. “But it is the law of the land, and it is the platform, the fundamental platform, upon which all future efforts to make this system better for that patient, for that family, for that community, will be based.”

In fact, added Frist, “the law contains many…strong elements. And those elements -- well, whatever happens -- need to be preserved, need to be cuddled, need to be snuggled, need to be promoted and need to be implemented.”

In case you don't believe us, you can hear Frist here, in his own words… Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.