Health Insurers Taught Republicans How To Oppose The Public Option

This Ben Smith post really ties together the two arguments I made yesterday, namely that health insurers are extremely effective in shaping public opinion and that Fox News began referring to the public option as the government option to help sink reform, not offer a better explanation of the provision. As it turns out, that phrase first originated not with Fox or Frank Luntz, but AHIP — the insurance lobby powerhouse that shaped much of the law to its liking:

A former Republican Hill staffer closely involved in the battle over the health care plan — and concerned that credit go where it’s due — e-mails that the case for the linguistic shift first emerged in February in research provided the GOP by the health insurance industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

AHIP focus groups from late February (whose findings appear in this document, provided by the former aide) found that voters like the idea of a “public” plan, and that the most negative term is a “government-run health insurance plan.”

A round of polling from AHIP in February and March confirmed that argument. “It is clear the most negative language to use when describing a ‘public plan’ is ‘a government-run health insurance plan,’” reads a presentation the group distributed, starting in March, to allies, Republican staff and opinion leaders and to conservative media, according to the former aide.Sen. John Ensign was the first to pick up the talking point in a March 24 release blasting a “Government-Run ‘Public’ Health Insurance Plan.”

This is fairly significant because it once again reaffirms the existence of a messaging pipeline which stretches from the industry to the lobbyist to the lawmaker and to Fox — and not necessarily in that order. The effectiveness of this communication system was on full display during the health care debate, when Republicans went to the floor and literally read from the industry-sponsored critique of the health law and then again echoed their arguments about the causes of premium increases after the law passed. None of this happened through some coincidence or a meeting of the minds. More likely than not, Republicans and their friends in the media were reading from talking points they received directly from the industry.


But the industry’s influence stretched far beyond the phrase “government option.” Insurers went to great lengths to develop messages that shifted public perceptions against the provision. As this AHIP presentation demonstrates, almost all of the following phrases became standard Republican talking points against reform — and they came straight out of the industry’s polling:

In his book Deadly Spin, Wendell Potter explains how this process works through the help of public relations firms and a mass distribution of information to friendly news outlets (read: Fox News) and conservative think tanks who then place favorable editorials in the country’s leading newspapers. This example deserves a prime spot in the book’s second edition, which, with some more investigative work, could contain whole treasure trove of anti-reform phrases and talking points that originated with AHIP.

Read AHIP’s research on the ‘public option’ here and see their presentation here.