A few nights ago, I made dinner for my wife and myself. The centerpiece of the meal was fish. Orange Roughy to be exact. I dredged it in panko and cornmeal with some lemon pepper seasoning and pan fried it. It was delicious. Honestly, I impressed myself. Here’s the thing: Orange Roughy belongs to a family of fish collectively known as “Slimehead.” Now, I don’t think you have to have a degree in sales and marketing to understand that people will be hesitant to eat anything called Slimehead–especially if Orange Roughy is on the same menu. That’s the same rationale for calling deep fried bull testicles “Rocky Mountain Oysters.” It’s how branding works, and there’s a psychology to all of it that I don’t have the time or the space to get into on this blog.
But with that bit of background to provide some context, I want to turn our attention to the new health reform law. People are confused by its roughly 2,000 pages and don’t even know what to call it. Officially, it’s name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care of Act of 2010. For one, that’s a mouthful, so people don’t want to keep referring to it like that. After all, “The Official Collection of Several Divinely Inspired Books for Christians as Agreed Upon by Several Councils of Religious Leaders” is nowhere near as tidy as “The Holy Bible.” For another, it isn’t exactly clear from the name what the law does. What does “Patient Protection” mean? Protection from what? Protection from whom? And so, many people have begun to call the law the “Affordable Care Act” which is a bit clearer with its focus on affordable care, but still a bit much to say or write. As a result, it soon becomes the ACA and is forever lost in acronym land. You will know this has happened when, in a group of people, someone refers frequently to “Ack-Uh” while others follow along knowingly and others look prepared to start the Heimlich maneuver. Brevity is important, but equally so is understanding.
The irony is that the principle that made such buzzwords as “death panels” and “socialized medicine” part of the effective rhetoric of a galvanized opposition to health reform, can–and I would suggest must–be used to help Americans understand health reform in a new way that centers on solidarity and a feeling of national pride and personal security. Without the unifying nature of its name, Medicare might never have caught on with the public. William Sage argues, in a recent Health Affairs article, that we should call the new law “Americare.” Of course, I’m partial to the name I used in a piece a couple of years ago: “AmeriChoice”. Either way, Sage and I agree that branding health reform is essential.
Now, I know what some of you glass-half-empty sorts of people are thinking: “A Slimehead is a Slimehead even if you call it Orange Roughy. In other words, just changing the name doesn’t change the facts, and a Slimehead is a disgusting thing I don’t want to eat, any more than this health reform that’s being forced down my throat. I don’t care what you call it. I still don’t like it.” While I wish those of you would present the same point from an optimistic standpoint (e.g., “A rose by another name would smell as sweet…”) I understand that you’re entitled to your opinions. Still, you might be surprised how your opinions and other behavior can change with time, messaging, and a feeling of ownership. How else do you explain us going from conservative fears of “socialized medicine” during the enactment of Medicare in 1965 (yes, even then) to conservative fears that led people to “tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare!” in 2009? I’ll tell you how. You don’t.