Thursday, October 22, 2009

What’s In a Name

A few years ago, the Ford Motor Company came out with a new sedan called the Five Hundred. It was a nice-looking car, aimed at the buyers who were going for the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but the car didn’t sell very well. Then the folks in Dearborn had an idea; they would rebrand it as the Taurus, using the name of one of the most popular cars that Ford had ever come up with since the Mustang, but had been discontinued in 2006. The “new” Taurus sales picked up, and proved that what you call something does matter, at least in the perception of the public.

That’s basically what’s happening with the public option in the current debate over healthcare reform. Apparently some folks are struggling with both parts of it: “public” suggests government-run as opposed to government-assisted, and “option” — at least to some — means “mandatory.” So the proponents of the plan have rebranded it as “Medicare Part E” — the “E” meaning for “Everyone.” Catchy.

The strategy could benefit Democrats struggling to bridge the gap between liberals in their party, who want the public option, and centrists, who are worried it would drive private insurers out of business.

While much of the public is foggy on what a public option actually is, people understand Medicare. It also would place the new public option within the rubric of a familiar system rather than something new and unknown.

Since it looks like the polls are showing that people are getting behind the idea of a public option no matter what you call it, it can’t hurt to make the connection of the idea to something that most people understand and like; even the town hall rowdies were saying that they didn’t want healthcare reform to mess with Medicare (irony, again, being in short supply this summer). And it will make things tougher for the Republicans to go on the attack against it since they probably would not like to be seen as the opponents of a popular program. The GOP’s biggest fear is that it will work and prove them to be — yet again — on the wrong side of doing the right thing.

It’s also nice to see the folks on Capitol Hill are catching up; a lot of people have been saying that the simplest way to get healthcare reform was to simply change the age requirements for Medicare and make it available to everyone. It’s efficient, it works, and while it’s not the cure-all for the problem, it goes a long way in addressing it. And, by the way, it is proof that the government can run something well.