It seems like a grim moment in the struggle to reform health insurance. The lights are growing dim. As health insurance industry stock prices rise, the chance to win this debate for universal coverage and a public option is on life support.
But it isn't dead yet. And it won't die if you do these simple things, Mr. President:
1) Find six middle-class people who have been dropped by their health insurance company. Put them on stage behind you at your town hall meetings. Finding them should take you roughly half an hour -- there are tens of millions of victims of the for-profit health insurance industry who fit this description. These people are merely a mirror of the country: hold up that mirror and keep it held up.
2) Find someone who is going to die because of the decisions made "by nameless bureaucrats" in the offices of AEtna or Cigna or any other for-profit health insurance corporation. Place your arm around them. Stand with them. Show the yahoos and the shouters the true face of what this industry is doing. Finding someone like this was easy for Wendell Potter, former VP of Communications for health insurance giant Cigna. In 2007, leukemia sufferer Nataline Sarkysian's liver transplant operation was declined by Potter's company, and that's what made Potter decide to resign his job and leave behind all its trappings. Nataline's death in the face of Cigna's refusal -- and too-late action -- allowed Potter to leave behind corporate jets and lunches on gold-plated flatware at 35,000 feet and every other perk of his position. It was a powerful motivator to do right. Show it, Mr. President. It is long past time to put names and faces to the detestable and wrong practices of the for-profit insurance industry -- and to catch up to the rest of the developed world by leaving them behind.
3) Find a "health fair" event where huge crowds of Americans are treated in tents, in open-air like animals. Bring the cameras. Show what non-insurance and underinsurance are doing to a once-proud country by dragging basic medical care down to third-world levels where patients drive hundreds of miles rather than risk a call to a doctor and an enormous surprise bill. Walk among them and find who is in these lines and why -- and focus like a laser on the fact that the insured and employed are in these lines.
4) Notice that the insurance industry-funded opposition to reform is well-managed enough to not send shouters and swastika sign-wavers to the town halls you are scheduled to appear at. They seem to appear everywhere else, though, creating a steady stream of video of mouthpieces -- some unwitting -- for the health insurance industry. Your strategy? Show up unannounced at one of these. Let the fans of slimy hate radio shout and wiggle their sad signs in your face on national TV. Show the rest of the country, finally, what kind of pitiful people these are that would equate the holocaust with health insurance reform.
5) Go on the offensive by getting the language right. Medicare is a socialist program, just like the fire department. Health insurance costs and industry practices threaten to burn down the national economy -- who wants a free-market fire department when the house is burning?
The battle is over health insurance reform, not health care reform. Health care is doctors and patients. Health insurance is bills. And about those -- refuse to let the insurance industry off the hook for the skyrocketing deductibles and premiums. The very premise of a $10,000 deductible plan that costs hundreds a month should be hammered on time and time again with the message that: private insurance doesn't insure.
6) Stand with -- and put a spotlight upon -- persons of faith who will no longer let the Christian right define faith-based public activism. Tens of millions of Christians in this reportedly "Christian nation" know very well the parables of a healer named Jesus Christ are uniquely incompatible with the practices of the for-profit health insurance industry. Stand with these large coalitions including PICO National Network, Sojourners, Faith In Public Life and others -- and elevate their profile and message at this critical time.
Treat this fight with the effort it deserves, Mr. President. If not now, when?