Patients’ Rights Suddenly “Sacred” to Scared GOP

Lois Uttley

Meet the newest defender of reproductive rights: GOP strategist and health care reform opponent Dr. Frank I. Luntz.

Meet the newest defender of
reproductive rights: GOP strategist Dr. Frank I. Luntz. 

Yes, that’s the fellow who’s
advising the Republicans in Congress on how to defeat health reform
this year by scaring voters about a "Washington takeover of health
care." His leaked strategy memo has Democrats scrambling to devise
a response to what they fear could be this year’s version of the "Harry
and Louise" attack ad that sunk the Clinton health plan.  

What Luntz is trying to do
is get Republicans pounding away at the idea of a "public plan"
in national health reform, that would compete with private insurance
companies. The idea of a government-sponsored health plan has sent the
GOP off a cliff. (It seems they have forgotten about Medicare.) 

But a close reading of Luntz’s
memo reveals some surprising language – and potential opportunities
to turn his messages back on the Republicans. After all, he is trying
to reinvent a group of politicians who have spent the last eight years
standing for maximum government interference in Americans’ personal
health care decisions.  

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Whether it was low-income women
seeking to end unintended pregnancies for which they were not prepared,
or Terri Schiavo’s husband trying to let her have the peaceful death
she wanted, Republicans were all for sticking their noses into agonizing
family health care decisions that should remain private. These interfering
politicians haven’t minded overruling doctors and scientists either.
Remember the outrageous intrusion of ultraconservative ideology into
the FDA’s decision-making on emergency contraception? 

Here are two of my favorite
tidbits from his memo: 

    What Americans are looking
    for in health care is "more access to treatments and more doctors
    … with
    less interference from insurance companies and Washington
    politicians and special interests."
     

    As our first priority,
    we need to preserve what works in America
    , protect the sacred
    doctor-patient relationship and allow people to choose the personal
    care that suits their individual needs.
     

Hmm. Where have we heard that
before? Was it something a reproductive health advocate once said about
letting women and their doctors decide? In Luntz’s world, that doctor-patient
relationship has become not just important, but sacred. Notice
how he craftily worked religion into the message, the way Karl Rove
used to?

Luntz goes on to cite some
interesting, although unattributed, public opinion research to support
his advice that the words "deny" and "denial" should "enter
the conservative lexicon immediately." Apparently, Republican researchers
asked people: "What would you be most concerned about if the government
were to further regulate healthcare? The most popular answer was "being
denied a procedure or medication because a Washington bureaucrat says
no."   

The "single most important
language finding" in his work to date, Luntz says, is this phrase:
"Delayed care is denied care." Of course, he means for Republicans
to say this in order to disparage Canadian-style national health plans
that allegedly would lead to long lines at the doctor’s office. But,
pardon us if we point out that women are already experiencing this problem
of "delayed care/denied care" while trying to get reproductive health
services when there are no providers in rural areas, or when the services
aren’t covered by Medicaid. 

With all that polling research
at his fingertips, Luntz’s offers some recommendations for "words
that work" on health reform: 

    Now is not the time
    to play politics with healthcare. Now is the time for everyone to work
    together to achieve what matters most: more affordable, more accessible,
    more individualized and personalized healthcare.
     

    We should ask him (President
    Obama) to commit to the principle that doctors and patients should be
    making healthcare decisions, not some Washington bureaucracy.

Don’t be fooled when Republican
politicians in Washington try to use these messages to eliminate any
competition for private health insurers in national health reform or
to sell the discredited idea that Americans can buy our own health insurance
if we just get tax credits.  

But, women’s health advocates
would be well advised to remember Luntz’s messages when the inevitable
battle comes up this year over whether to re-enact the Hyde Amendment,
which denies Medicaid funding for low-income women needing abortions.
We should have these messages handy today, May 15, when the National
Right to Life Organization holds a press conference to demand that abortion
services be excluded from national health reform.  

Repeat after me: Patient-centered
health care. More access to treatments. Protect the sacred
doctor-patient relationship. Let people choose the health care they
need. Less interference from Washington bureaucrats.  

That’s what the Republicans
will be saying, and we should hold them to it. 

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