By Kevin Friedl
National Journal Group Inc.
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007
For a few weeks this summer, it looked as though health care was shaping up to be the most important issue of the Democratic presidential primary, aside from Iraq. Michael Moore’s “Sicko” was still in theaters and candidates were stumbling over themselves to release detailed policy proposals explaining how they would expand medical coverage to more Americans.
But while the ongoing battle over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program has kept health care in the news, recent sparring between the candidates over foreign policy experience and fundraising from lobbyists has helped bury it below the fold.
A new ad campaign running in Iowa seeks to put universal health care back in the spotlight and into the speeches of the three leading Democratic contenders. The National Nurses Organizing Committee, a group representing some 45,000 nurses nationwide, and Physicians for a National Health Program launched the series of minute-long ads last week in a buy that included two airings during the Democratic debate in Des Moines on Sunday.
The spots feature individuals talking directly into the camera about problems plaguing the health care system and explaining why the country needs “single-payer guaranteed health care.” In each ad, the camera cuts back to reveal the speaker has been addressing a cardboard cutout of either Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards or Barack Obama. “Don’t be silent,” says an announcer at the end of each spot. “Let the Democratic candidates for president know that real leadership on health care doesn’t mean just being better than the Republicans.”
While the basic message of the individual ads is the same, each takes a slightly different tack in arguing for universal insurance coverage. “Speechless John Edwards” features a businessman arguing for the economic advantages of a single-payer system. The woman in “Speechless Barack Obama” tells a personal story of the hardships that private insurance companies can cause. And in “Speechless Hillary Clinton”, a registered nurse makes an emotional appeal, saying, “I don’t want to be forced to choose between which patients get the best care, between who lives and who dies.”
Each spot argues very specifically for universal coverage, and although questions about health insurance featured more prominently in Sunday’s Democratic debate than in previous forums, the groups sponsoring the “Speechless” ads say they want more policy specifics and bigger changes.
As opposed to the Republicans, “the Democrats are at least talking about health care reform,” said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the NNOC. “Regrettably, most major proposals do not solve the crisis. What they do is reinforce the existing insurance-based system.”
With a universal health care bill floating around the House, Bush promising to veto both versions of the SCHIP bill once Congress reconvenes and Republican candidates like Rudy Giuliani already preparing their own insurance policy proposals, the health care issue appears to be heating up once again.
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