Protecting consumers

PROTECTING CONSUMERS…. Over the weekend, in his weekly radio/video address, President Obama presented health care reform in a slightly different light. He didn’t mention the uninsured at all, and instead talked almost exclusively about the importance of reform on businesses and employers. The president referenced the words “small business” 11 times in his brief message.

Today, Obama is poised to tweak the message further, hosting events in Raleigh, N.C., and Bristol, Va., with a fundamentally different pitch, emphasizing consumers. The bullet points are likely to resonate with people who have insurance, and are afraid of changes.

1. No Denials for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurers would be banned from refusing coverage based on medical history.

2. No Huge Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurers would be bound by annual caps on charges for out-of-pocket expenses.

3. Preventive Care: Insurers would be required to cover checkups and tests like mammograms or diabetes screenings.

4. No Drops in Coverage for Major Illnesses: Companies would be barred dropping or diluting coverage for those who become seriously ill.

5. No Gender Disparities: Companies could not charge differently based on gender.

6. No Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage:

7. Expanded Coverage for Young Adults: Family plans would cover people through age 26.

8. Renewal Guarantees: If premiums are paid, policies have to be renewed even if new illnesses emerge.

This isn’t about changing the policy itself, but rather, reframing the argument. When the White House subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) began talking up “health insurance reform” last week, this is probably what they were getting at. Millions of Americans have insurance through a private provider, and don’t necessarily appreciate how reform will affect them. Obama’s message seems intended to speak to this directly.

In a nutshell, the new message is telling consumers, “We’re going to make it a lot harder for an insurance company to screw you over.” At face value, it’s the kind of message that might make reform more appealing to more people.

The problem, of course, is that there are eight bullet points. People actually have to be willing to listen to them, and the media, which has been complaining about substance, details, and the “boring’ nature of policy debates, may be reluctant to actually list all eight.

That said, the eight points are easy to understand, and one assumes, popular points for pretty much everyone in the country. If the White House has struggled with a clear public message on reform — and I believe it has — perhaps this revised pitch will help focus Obama and his team, and get their efforts back on track.