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Failing To Explain Health Care

The conservative line on President Obama's speech is that he's in denial. Specifically, his claim that health care reform suffers from a failure of explanation has drawn widespread ridicule. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes: "He amazingly blamed his health-care failure on 'not explaining it more clearly.'"

But polls suggest that Obama's diagnosis has it exactly right. The more people know about his plan, the more they like it. When read neutral decsription of his proposal, it enjoys strong support. And a recent Kaiser Foundation poll shows this even more strongly. The poll moves through every element of the Democratic plan. Nearly all of them enjoy strong support:

Prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums because of a person’s medical history or health condition: 63

Provide tax credits to small businesses that want to offer coverage to their employees: 73

Increase income taxes for individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million a year as a way to help pay for health reform: 59

Create a health insurance exchange or marketplace where small businesses and people who don’t get coverage through their employers can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits: 67

Provide financial help to people who have incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level – about $88,000 for a family of four – and who don’t get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage: 57

Now, none of this is to say that better explanation should be expected to make the plan popular. Our political culture and news media are not equipped to explain complex public policy issues, nor is the public especially equipped to understand them. A world in which the public commands a careful understanding of the details of legislation is never going to be a close approximation of reality. I'd also note that Obama did very little in his speech to explain his plans.

Still, it remains the case that Republicans have won the public opinion war over health care precisely because they have benefited from, and helped to create, widespread public failure to understand the details of the plan.