GOP Pretends to Care About Patient's Rights

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.  

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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