The Supreme Court ruling made Obamacare constitutional but it didn’t make it popular. What can rhetoric — the classic art of persuasion — tell us about crafting an argument for (or against) the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? In this post, I’ll sketch out a persuasive argument for Obamacare. In my next post, I’ll sketch out an argument against it.
A general rule of persuasion is that the simpler argument usually wins the debate. So, if President Obama called me to ask for help crafting the argument for the ACA, I’d say two things: 1) Simplify through analogy, 2) reframe to responsibility. (I’d also tell him to make me Ambassador to Ecuador — that’s what I really want).
Simplify through analogy — the simplest analogy is car insurance. We used to allow people to drive without insurance. To cover the damage caused by uninsured drivers, we set up large uninsured motorist funds supported by taxpayers. Ultimately, we got tired of paying for the carnage caused by uninsured drivers — also known as “free riders”, “deadbeats” and “jerks” — and passed mandate requiring drivers to have some insurance in order to drive. The result? Total costs to “responsible” drivers went down because we had to pay only for our own insurance and not also for uninsured motorists.
Reframe to responsibility — opponents of the ACA have positioned it as an infringement on liberty. Supporters should reframe this to personal responsibility. Everyone should take responsibility for the cost of their own healthcare. If you don’t, you’re a free rider – you pass your costs on to other, more responsible citizens. Those who pay for health insurance are also paying the cost for caring for deadbeats and free riders. Sounds a lot like socialized medicine.
What about the dreaded word, “tax”? The Supremes have labeled the mandate a tax, which is precisely why they’ve said that it’s legal. If supporters of Obamacare try to argue that it’s not a tax, they’ll simply appear to be dissembling which will reduce their persuasiveness. So they need to embrace the word, more or less like this, “Yes, it’s a tax. It’s a tax on irresponsibility. If you choose not to act responsibly, then we’re going to ask you to pay into a kitty that will help defray the costs of your care. It’s your choice. Act responsibly and pay no tax. Or act irresponsibly and pay a small tax. By the way, you’re already paying a tax — you’re paying for everyone who doesn’t have insurance but needs health care. Hospitals can’t turn them away, so they send the bill to you.”
Will it work? Well, look at the next post in this series to see the opposite argument.