Was the Luntz memo not clear enough?

WAS THE LUNTZ MEMO NOT CLEAR ENOUGH?…. Following up on yesterday’s item, high-profile Republicans continue to suggest health care reform isn’t especially important, and the status quo isn’t so bad. I’m not sure why.

Remember, this isn’t supposed to be the GOP script. Republican pollster Frank Luntz reminded GOP officials not to ignore the public support for changing the system. “You simply MUST be vocally and passionately on the side of REFORM,” Luntz advised his party. “The status quo is no longer acceptable. If the dynamic becomes ‘President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,’ then the battle is lost and every word in this document is useless…. Acknowledge the ‘crisis’ or suffer the consequences.”

And yet, over the past couple of weeks, the number of Republicans trashing the very idea of reform keeps growing. Yesterday, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) spoke out against changing the system and said the number of uninsured has been exaggerated. And a few days ago, Fox News personality Steve Doocy insisted that only 5 percent of the population has no coverage and said it’s not worth “blowing up the system for 5 percent.”

What happened to avoiding “President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it”?

Media Matters did a nice job fact-checking the anti-reform message, noting, among other things, the fact that insurance companies “often cancel policies or deny coverage,” the congressional proposals include “provisions to help those who lose their insurance purchase new policies,” and conservative claims about the number of insured just aren’t true.

Boehner claim: “93% of the American people have access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.” Conservative media figures have echoed Boehner’s claim that “93% of the American people have access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.” For example, in response to Moore’s assertion that “the vast majority of Americans do have health insurance” and that “[t]hey kinda like the insurance they have,” Hemmer asserted, “So, what they’re wondering is, why blow up the system for a small number?”

In fact, roughly 25 million Americans were underinsured in 2007. The underinsured are “the percent of adults between 19 and 64 whose out-of-pocket health care expenses (excluding premiums) are 10 percent or more of family income.” According to Cathy Schoen, senior vice president of The Commonwealth Fund, in 2007 “an estimated 25 million adults under age 65 were underinsured.” That figure represents a significant increase over the past several years. As Schoen explained, “From 2003 to 2007, the number of adults who were insured all year but were underinsured increased by 60 percent.” [Testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee from Gail Shearer, director of health policy analysis for Consumers Union, February 24; Schoen testimony before HELP Committee, February 24]

The underinsured do not receive adequate care and face financial hardship. As Shearer explained: “Underinsurance is a problem for two key reasons: Inadequate coverage results in the financial burden of uncovered health care. In our survey, for example, 30% of the underinsured had out-of-pocket costs of $3,000 or more for the previous 12 months. Underinsurance can lead to medical debt and even bankruptcy. The second problem posed by underinsurance is delayed or denied health care and poorer health outcomes, caused by the financial barrier to care.” Similarly, Schoen explained that the “experiences” of the underinsured were “similar” to those of the uninsured, noting that “over half of the underinsured and two thirds of the uninsured went without recommended treatment, follow-up care, medications or did not see a doctor when sick. Half of both groups faced financial stress, including medical debt.” [Shearer testimony before HELP Committee, February 24; Schoen testimony before HELP Committee, February 24]

But as a political and rhetorical matter, Democrats love to argue that Republicans want to leave the broken system just the way it is. And for reasons that escape me, Republicans seem to be playing along.