How conservatives can win over Americans on a new health-care bill
Sell benefits, not features
One of the oldest dictums in the word of sales is: "Sell benefits, not features." When someone is excited for the product they want to sell, they tell the customers about all of the product's amazing features; but the way to get a customer excited is to sell them on how they will personally, concretely, benefit from it. "This new car gets 40 rods to the hogshead!" is selling features. "This new car will cut your gas bill in half!" is selling benefits.
I keep thinking about this line whenever I hear Republicans and conservatives talking about health-care reform. The conservative vision, in a nutshell, is easy to summarize: By empowering patients (which involves things like getting rid of mandates and de-emphasizing third-party payments and choices) the magic of the free market will bring down prices, increase innovation, and improve access. It's a wonderful vision, and I believe in it.
But it's a feature, not a benefit.
The reason why health-care reform is so hard for any party to tackle is because the American public's basic emotional response when it comes to health care is, in a word, fear. Health is in and of itself a scary topic, of course. But there is also the fear of losing coverage, the fear of being saddled with huge bills if you do something wrong, the fear of something bad happening, the fear of "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" syndrome.
You won't get people to overcome their fears and buy into a reform project with happy-pappy talk about the magic of the market. As much as I may wish it weren't the case, the broad middle of the American people, who effectively have a veto on legislation, might have a conservative sensibility of sorts, but they are not ideological, National Review-subscribing, Hayek-quoting conservatives.
So, if conservatives still want a health-care bill, here's what they should say: Under our plan, everyone will have a personal health concierge. Everyone will have a voucher to subscribe to a health concierge service. Like a financial adviser has a fiduciary duty to look out for your interests, your health concierge will have a legal obligation to look out for your best health interests, not providers' or insurers' interests. This concierge will be, as Cato Institute health care scholar Michael Cannon put it in a memorable, must-read lecture on the future of free-market health care, "equal parts counselor, clinician, and financial adviser." Your concierge will help you "communicate with your medical team," "understand your treatment options," and be "a cost-sharing consultant." Your concierge will put you in touch with "doctors, health coaches, dieticians, geneticists, and health plans" according to what you need and want. What's more, your concierge service will have an iPhone app you can use 24/7 where you can reach a primary care clinician for any health question, who can provide telemedicine and remote diagnostics, and refer you to whatever service you need.
Don't you wish this was a thing that existed? I live in France, which has pretty good health care, and if a health concierge existed in the U.S., I'd want to move so I get get in on it.
But more to the point: Note that the health concierge idea is about "empowering patients." The health concierge is the way you empower patients by reducing the information asymmetry they have vis-à-vis health providers and insurers. It says that the health-care system is about the individual, not remote institutions. But while "empowering patients" is a feature, the concierge is a benefit. The first is abstract, the other is concrete. One sounds great in theory but is hard to do in practice. The other makes you want to say, "Shut up and take my money."
One major problem with the conservative movement is that we have stopped relating to real people and their problems. We're so satisfied with our ideology that we just keep harping on about it. But real people, justifiably, want their politicians to be responsive to their own cares and concerns and provide concrete, workable solutions to their problems.
Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that the one thing they get the most valuable information from is talking to their customers, and that the best way to make a successful product is to work backwards from the consumers' needs. "Sell benefits, not features" isn't just a sales technique, it's a way to force yourself to exercise empathy, and to make sure that what you're selling will actually solve someone's problem in a way powerful enough to make them want to part ways with their hard-earned money.
Go on, conservatives. Sell benefits, not features.