Healthcare Reform: WIIFM?

08/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In my line of work, clients come to me when they want help selling themselves and their ideas. I always work from one, primary line of reasoning: What's In It For Me, a.k.a., WIIFM. Not "me," of course, but their target audiences like clients and customers. My clients must understand, first and foremost, that if they want their clients and customers to buy what they are selling, they must have a clear idea of how it will benefit these clients and customers and communicate it to them just as clearly.

On healthcare reform, clear communication is, so far, missing. The American people are generally in favor of reform. They agree the current system is broken and unsustainable. This cuts across party lines. President Obama and his administration have made it a priority to fix it, but they're having a great deal of difficulty selling it. One reason for this difficulty is that they are speaking in terms that are far too general. If they want to be successful, they have to get specific.

In particular, I want to know two things: What am I going to get and how much is it going to cost me? WIIFM? That is critical information currently missing from the debate. Until the American people know the answers, however, they're going to have a tough time rallying around any plan for reform.

As is typical of policy makers, they think "big picture." That's great, that's important, but it isn't enough to advance a change of this magnitude. Furthermore, the lack of specificity or WIIFM factor gives opponents a tremendous opportunity to sow doubt and confusion.

A way to make it more appealing is to use actual case studies. The typical case study story goes something like this, "Debbie and Stan are both in their 50s, have been hardworking all their lives, put 3 kids through college, lost their jobs in the recession along with health insurance, can't afford COBRA and now they're sick and will go bankrupt and lose their home. By reforming our healthcare system, people like Debbie and Stan would be protected."

Like most people, that story touches me deeply. It's immoral that this is happening to them. But, like most people, I'm thinking, "I have insurance. Sure, it costs $16,000+ this year, but it's pretty good. I'm worried about change."

Now, what if the president and the healthcare reform proponents added some important details that address the WIIFM factor for Debbie and Stan (all numbers are figurative)?

• The coverage will cost them less than $200 per month, nearly 75% less than COBRA.

• All their preventive care -- checkups, immunizations, mammograms and
other tests that will help them stay healthy -- are covered.

• All proven medications and treatments are covered.

• They'll never have to pay more than 10% of their income in out-of-pocket costs.

• The plans will even provide healthy living counseling if they want to quit smoking or
find a good diet and exercise program.

• If their luck changes for the worse and they can no longer afford the $200 monthly
premium, the United States Government will help them by providing subsidies as
needed. Once they're back on their feet, the responsibility reverts back to them.

• Prices will increase every year, but will be capped at the increase in the cost of living or
3%, whichever is less.

• Oh, and let's not forget dental -- in this country we've somehow come to believe that
dental care is optional. No longer. Dental care will be included in the coverage.

• To pay for it, taxes are going up -- but just by a little, say between 1.5-2.5% depending
on income, but think of what you'll be saving in health care costs.

• Taxes pay for all kinds of great things like highways, police, firefighters and teachers.
Now taxes will also pay for great health care.

• You'll never have to worry about it again.

Sign me up.

I realize my numbers are probably off, but someone in power must have an idea of what a plan for Debbie and Stan could look like and what the tax hikes mights be (see Timothy Noah and Jonathan Cohn). Even so, some specificity is preferable to none, numbers and facts that people can understand, relate to and support.

If President Obama and his administration want the American people -- the customers -- to buy these proposals, they'd better start thinking WIIFM.