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Op-Ed
 

Wendell Potter: Fear-mongering won't scuttle Obamacare

Opponents hope to kill health care reform by scaring people, but time is running out

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By: Wendell Potter, Center for Public Integrity

Aug. 26, 2013 - Opponents of Obamacare know that time is not on their side. If they can't kill the health care law by threatening to shut down the government, as some Republicans are suggesting, the game will be over, and they know it. That's because there is an expiration date on their long-running campaign to scare the bejesus out of Americans about the awful things that will happen if health care reform is not mortally wounded by year's end.

Fear mongering has a shelf life. The strategy the president's opponents have been using to influence public opinion is based on the premise that people fear the unknown. Most of us just don't like uncertainty.

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, but the most important consumer benefits and protections won't go into effect until January 1, 2014. That has given the president's political adversaries three and a half years to spread lies and misinformation.

Because supporters of the law have been outspent by hundreds of millions of dollars already — with much of that cash coming from insurance companies and their business pals worried about shrinking profit margins — it's little wonder that opinion surveys continue to show that more Americans oppose the law than support it.

But those opinion polls will start to change in a few months when Americans realize that their worst politically inspired fears have not been realized, and that, gosh darn it, things are actually better than they used to be.

Having played a role in similar campaigns designed to mislead the public by spreading fear in hopes of defeating profit-threatening legislation, I know how frantic the anti-Obamacare folks must be right about now.

Although efforts to repeal the law have fallen short in Congress no fewer than 40 times, Republicans have still benefited significantly from their years-long campaign against the legislation. Those efforts helped them more than anything else to win control of the House in 2010. Several Congressional Republicans reportedly have been meeting weekly over the past several months to develop new tactics to keep the game going. They apparently believe there is nothing to lose by continuing to foster what is known in the world of psychology as anticipatory anxiety. Yet they have to know by now that the expiration date for their obfuscation is fast approaching.

As Dr. Srini Pillay, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, notes, anticipatory anxiety is a negative projection about an unknown outcome. Shrewd political strategists know that many are hardwired for anxiety about unknown outcomes. Which is why all campaigns against a proposed law or regulation are fear-based. And they work. Until, of course, the unknown becomes known and it turns out life is not as bad as we feared.

We've been told by people who want to take over our government that we must fear Obamacare because it will be a job-killing and grandma-killing government takeover of health care that will destroy the best health care system in the world. But folks, that's a dog whose hunting days are numbered.

Some politicians have even slipped up and let an uncomfortable truth slip out: that when the Americans they've spooked about Obamacare find out in a few months that they have been misled and realize that the law has multiple benefits, they will not want to go back to the bad old days that were so profitable for their big political contributors.

Obamacare haters need to look more closely at those surveys they cite time and again to "prove" that most Americans want to get rid of the law. While a recent Gallup poll showed that 49 percent of Americans disapprove of the law and 41 percent approve, the details of just about every poll on the subject reveal that a significant percentage of the disapprovers actually think the law doesn't go far enough to protect us from abusive insurance companies and money-hungry doctors and hospitals. This means that those who want to repeal or defund Obamacare because they think it goes too far are in the minority.

Be forwarned: this doesn't mean that come January 1 the warriors will raise the white flag and forget about Obamacare. Because 2014 is an election year, the job then will be to create false or misleading perceptions about the law, and they'll attempt to do that through the use of selective statistics and anecdotes. Trust me on this. I used to do that kind of work for a living. And trust me on this, too: the anti-Obamacare campaign has never really been about overturning the law as much as it has been about winning elections.

Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter is writing about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform. His columns are published every Monday. Potter is the author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans. www.publicintegrity.org

 

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