Monday, September 14, 2009

Never Let The Facts Get In The Way Of A Good Story

In order to persuade people to support his health care reform plans, President Obama has sought to portray insurance companies in the role of the villain. A compelling story usually has good guys and bad guys and by fixating on insurance companies as the cause of the woes in our health care system, the president is setting up a dragon to be slayed by the progressive knight. While it makes for good (and easy) drama, the reality of health care is far more complicated than that.

In today's WSJ, Scott Harrington says that many of the president's assertions on the abuses of insurance companies dropping coverage are more based on fiction than fact:

These two cases are presumably among the most egregious identified by Congressional staffers' analysis of 116,000 pages of documents from three large health insurers, which identified a total of about 20,000 rescissions from millions of policies issued by the insurers over a five-year period. Company representatives testified that less than one half of one percent of policies were rescinded (less than 0.1% for one of the companies).

If existing laws and litigation governing rescission are inadequate, there clearly are a variety of ways that the states or federal government could target abuses without adopting the president's agenda for federal control of health insurance, or the creation of a government health insurer.

Like many of the other rationales that the president uses to justify the need for his reform plans, the problems with companies dropping coverage are exaggerated to foster fear and the false choice is presented that the only options to address the problems are the president's way or doing nothing.

One of the surest signs of the decline of political discourse in America in recent years is the rise of rhetoric by anecdote ("Let me tell you the story of..."). It's an emotionally manipulative and powerful tool and President Obama is a master at using it.

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