5 Steps to Save 10,000 Americans and 2014

April 9, 2014

Right now, Republican politicians—mostly Governors, including 13 on the ballot this year—are blocking health coverage for 5 million Americans in 24 states. Of those 5 million, research suggests 10,000 will die this year for lack of insurance. People in states across the country are already working hard on this, but it’s not just a state issue. If we handle this issue right, we can shift the national narrative on the Affordable Care Act and the 2014 midterms—and possibly save lives too.

This would be a tough year even without the Right constantly hammering on ‘Obamacare.’ To shift the narrative and momentum, we need something new to talk about—not more political bickering, not more complicated programs, but real Americans facing real challenges. Here are 5 communications keys to saving them, and us:

1.  People, Not Programs: Don’t Talk About “M*dicaid E*pansion.”

The Affordable Care Act deemed these 5 million Americans eligible for Medicaid and paid for their coverage. But “Medicaid expansion” is not the issue. It doesn’t matter what program covers them, be it Medicaid or Medicare or HMOs or MASH units. The fate of the Medicaid program is not the issue, the fate of 5 million Americans is.

When we focus on “Medicaid,” especially paired with the word “expansion,” we blunt the impact of this issue. It’s boring, and that’s a big reason most people have never heard of this issue. Worse, it evokes growing government, rather than neighbors in need. You may want to say Medicaid once to orient reporters, but don’t lead with it: lead with what matters, then explain as need be. What matters? That 5 million Americans got health care for the first time, until Republican politicians took that healthcare away from them. Why? Just to spite the President. And thousands of Americans will die because of it.

We need testing to see what words work best. But the following are all upgrades over how we’ve been talking about this:

  • What is this issue called?  (The Republican) Healthcare Cut-off, Denial, Takeaway or Blockade
  • What are Republicans doing?  Cutting off care/coverage, denying care/coverage, blocking care/coverage, taking care/coverage away, and leaving people for dead
  • Who is affected?  Americans, working people, mothers, children, breadwinners, veterans

2.  Tell Life-And-Death Stories

We’ve already seen the powerful impact of real stories of lives saved as uninsured Americans have gotten health coverage. Now we are starting to see stories of lives lost. These will be even more powerful, and we owe it to them to tell their stories.

These are people like Charlene Dill, a 32-year-old mother of 3 working 3 jobs who dropped dead from an untreated heart condition in March because Florida Governor Rick Scott blocked her access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Statistically, we know that approximately 10,000 more Americans will die this year for lack of access to care. These are real Americans who have been left for dead by their Governors. We owe it to those who are dying not to ignore their stories. Projects like TexasLeftMeOut.org are already working to find their stories. We need to find them and get them confronting their governor in person and on camera before it’s too late. If we fail to get them help, we can at least get people heard, so their story might save the life of another.

3.  Paint The Picture — Both Solemn & Shocking

We need to use the right tones to convey the magnitude of this issue, and strong visuals to make it stick. A solemn tone conveys the gravity of the act: leaving fellow citizens to die is not Christian behavior. This is not just a political issue, this is a human issue. Treat it with the seriousness it deserves and people can see that.

The image of Republican Governors standing in the hospital door, blocking worthy Americans from entering, also bears more than a passing resemblance to segregationist Governor George Wallace standing in the Alabama schoolhouse door to block integration. Like Wallace, today’s Republicans block progress for good Americans out of stubborn spite. We all know who is right and wrong, and how the story ends.

But this situation is not just somber: it is also shocking, and we should make that clear too. The act of letting people die is depraved indifference and, were it not an official act, it would be negligent homicide. How does each Governor’s projected body count compare to that of their state’s most notorious mass murderer…or even the total number of murders, drunk driving deaths, etc. in the state? Nationally, needless to say, 10,000 is three times the American death toll on 9/11.

4.  Death AND Taxes: Back Up the Moral Argument With the Fiscal One

We want to lead with the moral argument because it moves beyond partisan politics, but those unmoved by the deaths of their fellow citizens might still show concern for their own wallets. These Republicans are cutting off care that is already funded with millions of dollars of their constituents’ tax money—that’s millions of dollars that our hospitals and economies need, that we already paid for, and that will otherwise go to other states. And in the long run, cutting off care will come with its own $1 Billion price tag: hospitals will still be forced to give uncompensated care to low-income individuals who could have easily been covered by health insurance, and the rest of us will get stuck with the bill. Not only are Republican politicians leaving their constituents for dead, they are leaving their constituents’ tax money on the table.

5.  Don’t Let Federal Officials Off the Hook: Hold All Complicit Republican Officeholders Accountable

Lastly, we can and should hold almost all Republicans accountable for this, at least in the affected states. MoveOn.org has already been able to get deep under Governor Bobby Jindal’s skin with a billboard calling him out. But once this issue is on the public’s radar, it’s not just governors or recalcitrant state legislators who are fair game. Any Republican in a cut-off state can be pressured on this: anyone who wants to represent people there, including House and Senate candidates, should prove it. They should call on the Governor not to block health care for their constituents. If they do, we should amplify that to divide Republican ranks and further highlight how unreasonable the holdouts are. If they don’t, they should be subject to the same exposure and accountability measures the Governors themselves are–billboards, bird-dogging, ads, petitions, hounding and heckling wherever they might try to hide from their deed and its consequences. We should strive to get them on the record now (on video if we can) before this issue gets bigger so they are in the hot seat when it does.

This is our issue.
Category: Health Care