Political Hay

His Own Worst Salesman

Lacking sizzle, Jindal’s reform proposal fizzles.

By 4.29.14

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“Don’t sell the steak—sell the sizzle.” — Elmer Wheeler

At the beginning of April, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put forth a 23-page proposal seeking to answer critics of Republican efforts to terminate Obamacare. Titled “The Freedom and Empowerment Plan: The Prescription For Conservative Consumer-Focused Health Reform,” it distills several conservative ideas on health care into a few big ones.

Among them:

  • Ending the disparate tax treatment given to employer-based rather than individual health plans, and instead issuing a standard deduction for health insurance which would incentivize the market to control insurance costs rather than letting them run riot as they have in recent years.
  • Establishing a ten-year, $100 billion pool of block grants to allow states to subsidize the purchase of health insurance for those whom a standard tax deduction won’t benefit.
  • Expanding options for consumers with Health Savings Accounts and creating incentives for, establishment of, and participation in, wellness programs.
  • Reconfiguring Medicaid and Medicare to make it more difficult to practice fraud by replacing the federal government’s current “pay and chase” model with something more sensible.
  • Guaranteeing available insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Turning Medicare into a premium-support plan for seniors purchasing their own insurance and reforming the Medigap program.
  • Measures to improve the ability to maintain insurance coverage through job changes, the creation of interstate purchasing of health insurance, and tort reform.
  • Allowing for the creation of pools for group insurance, which don’t center on employment at a specific firm. In other words, making it possible for trade groups, fraternal organizations, churches, alumni groups, and other voluntary organizations to provide health insurance to their members.

It’s a decent summary of Republican and conservative health reform ideas which have existed for some time, along with a few new ones. Many of the items presented in Jindal’s plan have bi-partisan support; for example, Medicare-as-premium-support was originally brought forth by a Clinton-era health reform commission headed by then-senator John Breaux with Jindal as its executive director in the 1990’s, and Senator Ron Wyden teamed with Congressman Paul Ryan to tout a bipartisan plan which included it just last year.

Jindal’s proposals put the lie to the Democrat narrative that conservatives don’t have anything to offer on health reform. The fact is there are lots of alternatives to the clunky, overpriced, unworkable, Industrial Age, nanny-state model the president has foisted on an unwilling public.

Moreover, Jindal’s plan has as its primary virtue that it doesn’t present itself as “comprehensive,” but rather a series of individual reforms, which could be passed, experimented with, and, if necessary, discarded one by one. There was a time when such an approach was considered good legislation. A prime reason for the dysfunction in Washington is the widespread preference for sweeping, omnibus changes to whole sectors of the American economy without anyone knowing exactly what they’re voting for.

So Jindal’s got the steak with the Freedom and Empowerment Plan. His problem is the sizzle.

He introduced the plan in a Fox News online column and a speech at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, and it received a number of write-ups in the national political media. That rollout put it on the radar of the political class and policy junkies inside and outside the health care industry.

But less than a month after its release, the general public knows nothing of Jindal’s health care reform plan. And because the public doesn’t know about it, the plan can’t help the governor present himself as the first-tier 2016 presidential candidate he clearly wants to be. He can’t sell himself as a problem-solver who can beat Hillary Clinton (or whoever the Democrats will have to offer in 2016) without demonstrating to the public that he has better ideas.

And that demonstration—that sizzle—is going to have to improve. A Fox News column and a two-day dent in the news cycle isn’t enough to sustain a political narrative. And it’s hard to build support for your health care proposals when nobody has seen them.

To witness this policy-rollout fizzle, look for a website that has Jindal’s health care proposal. If you’re determined enough you can find it, but before you get there you’ll probably be distracted. The proposal itself appears as a PDF file at the website of America Next, Jindal’s policy shop, but if you go to America Next’s website at www.americanext.org, all you’ll find is a signup page asking for your email address and zip code. There is no link to the Freedom and Empowerment Plan, there is no video presentation explaining it, there is no microsite with interactive bells and whistles… there is nothing.

Herman Cain’s “9-9-9 plan,” which every Joe Schmo in America has heard of, this ain’t.

But in your search for the proposal you might very well come across Jindalcare.com. There you’ll find a micro-site built by MoveOn.org, which satirizes Jindal and castigates him for opposing the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, complete with a thirty-second web ad with a sleazy Vince Offer (of ShamWow fame) doppelganger to inform you that “Jindal doesn’t care.”

MoveOn has no steak at all, but they’ve got sizzle. Jindal is the opposite. Unfortunately, that lack of salesmanship and inability to create a buzz make the Freedom and Empowerment plan just one more forgotten white paper drowned in an ocean of Democrat calumnies about how conservatives don’t have any ideas on health care.

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About the Author

Scott McKay is publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics.