Sometimes Healthcare Policy Has Nothing to Do With Health

Remember the public option? The bastard child of universal healthcare and market-based reform, it ultimately failed to make it into the final version of the Affordable Care Act. The bevy of reasons for opposing the public option ranged from President Obama’s brand of rabid Kenyan marxism to the potential for the plan to become a costly taxpayer-funded medical buffet for the nation’s sickest citizens. Now some new research suggests that the hodgepodge of opposition stances may have arisen from a common (and irrelevant) policy rationale. The study, which was led by DePaul’s Geoffrey Wetherell, found that opposition to the public option stems from whether or not people believe its beneficiaries violate the American value of hard work:

Across three samples and two types of healthcare reform strategies, stereotypes suggesting that people who would benefit most from healthcare reform violate the value of hard work emerged as a powerful predictor of opposition. Results from Study 1 demonstrate that opposition is driven indirectly by conservatism and directly by stereotypes of value violations. The fact that this relationship did not differ by policy title suggests that it is not simply perceptions of wasteful “socialized medicine” that drives opposition, but underlying beliefs about people who benefit from government healthcare programs in general. The only direct predictor of opposition to reform consistent across all samples and two different policies was judgments of value violation. These consistent and powerful effects present a compelling case that social scientists and policy makers should be examining the role of stereotypes more carefully in dialogs and debates about healthcare reform.

This is one reason the ideas behind Mitt Romney’s 47% rant will never go away. Instead of waging different fights on a variety of government spending programs, the GOP can kill all the birds with one stone by establishing that the beneficiaries of government spending are in violation of American values. Painting everybody who uses a government program as a lazy moocher is too efficient a tactic to give up.

One of the interesting things about the presidential campaign is that Democrats have also flirted with the strategy of attacking the values of those who benefit from your opponents’ policies. The idea that Obama hates rich people is absurd, but his campaign has made an effort to contrast tax cuts for the wealthy with the struggle of the middle class. The message is that the tax cuts will result in wealthy people collecting unmerited rewards at the expense of the middle class — an outcome that puts the wealthy in violation of American values. On some level the election could come down to how successful President Obama is in conveying this message and convincing Americans that Mitt Romney’s policies are good for people who don’t deserve it.
Wetherell, G., Reyna, C., & Sadler, M. (2012). Public Option versus the Market: Perceived Value Violations Drive Opposition to Healthcare Reform Political Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00923.x


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