Health Insurers Taught Republicans How To Oppose The Public Option

Yesterday, Media Matters obtained internal Fox News correspondence, which reveal that Fox bosses instructed their journalists not to use the term “public option” during the health care fight. DC Managing Editor Bill Sammon wrote that Fox’s reporters should instead use “government option” and similar phrases. Polling by Frank Luntz showed that using “government option” language made the public option unpopular with the American public. Now, Ben Smith is reporting that the phrase first originated not with Fox or 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.”


As the Wonk Room explains, 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 echoed their arguments about the causes of premium increases after the law passed. But the industry’s influence stretched far beyond the phrase “government option.” Click over to the Wonk Room to see how insurers went to great lengths to develop messages that shifted public perceptions against the provision.