South Carolina ACA/Obamacare Responses: A Lesson in Communication Strategy

Yesterday, I sent letters to my representatives about how excited I was about Obamacare finally being implemented and how they weren’t pro-life if they stopped it from coming into effect. Today they responded.

Three different politicians representing me, three different approaches to communication strategy.  We’ve got the impersonal and avoidant form letter, the detailed policy concerns reply, and the I acknowledge your concerns as valid and appreciate your input email.  I am surprised to find that the last on the list, from Joe “you lie” Wilson, is actually the one I most positively responded to while Lindsey “Butters” Graham, who I hold in the least contempt, sent me a disappointing brush off.  Perhaps I will hear more from him.

Form letter from Senator Lindsey Graham:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from you.

In spite of the high volume of mail I receive daily, I look forward to reviewing your correspondence and providing a personal response as soon as possible.

As we continue our work in the 113th Congress, I look forward to supporting our troops in the War on Terror, repairing our economy and creating jobs, strengthening Social Security, lowering the tax burden on American families, and making the federal government more accountable and efficient.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of further assistance to you or your family, and if you need immediate assistance, please call my office at 202-224-5972. If your correspondence pertains to a scheduling request, please fax your request to (202) 224-3808.

Sincerely,

Lindsey Graham

A longer, topic specific form letter from Senator Tim Scott, which also includes my name:

Dear Miss Miller,

Thank you for writing me to request more information regarding a conservative alternative to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). I appreciate your input on this important issue and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

As you may know, I am a staunch opponent of the PPACA, having voted multiple times to repeal the law, and I have consistently criticized President Obama’s implementation strategy for providing special favors and exemptions while ignoring Congressional intent and the rule of law. Recently, the President has challenged conservatives like myself on the issue of coming up with alternative plans rather than just fighting to dismantle his law. On August 9, 2013, at a press conference the President said, “There’s not even a pretense that [Republicans are] going to replace it with something better.”

In answering this challenge, I first want to mention that conservatives in Congress and the Republican party in general have not been without ideas for replacing the PPACA. In fact we have a history of bringing market-oriented alternatives to the table. The most notable plan, the Patients’ Choice Act of 2009, was put forth by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep Devin Nunes (R-CA).

Personally, I have embraced some ideas that address some key problems in our health care system. By starting with medical tort reform, which has seen great success in states like Texas, and moving toward a more competitive environment that allows health insurance companies to sell their products across state lines, I believe we could really see some significant improvements in the cost of care. Additionally, I believe that policies to protect high risk individuals from being excluded from the system or denied health insurance coverage will be critical to improving access to care. Beyond those initial steps, I would like to see more general movement toward a market-oriented health system without all of the excessive regulations that drive up costs, as we are currently seeing in the PPACA exchanges. Private health insurance exchanges are currently allowing companies to offer more options to their employees at a lower cost to companies and often to the employees as well. The competition and cost-savings that private exchanges allow will soon be contrasted by the government-run exchanges that are set to go live on October 1, 2013.

A more general issue beyond these particular options is the importance of controlling costs. I believe in fighting to make sure everyone has access to quality care, but, as health care costs continue rise, such access has become increasingly out of reach for many families. That is why the debate over solutions should focus on actually reducing costs, instead of simply shifting the burden to a different party. The solution is to get the government out of the way. The regulatory burden and mandates that the PPACA will place on providers, businesses and families will only serve to increase costs and reduce access to care.

While I cannot claim to have an answer for every problem facing our country, I can assure you that I have spent a lot of time considering alternatives to the President’s health care law. Health care reform will be one of the defining issues of our time, so it is critical that we implement plans that will work, not just for the short term, but for future generations as well.

Again, thank you for sharing your perspective with me; I hope that you will continue to do so in the future. If I can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or a member of my staff.

For more information, please visit my website at www.scott.senate.gov and subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter. I also encourage you to follow me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SenatorTimScott and Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenatorTimScott for daily updates.

Sincerely,

Tim Scott
United States Senator

This communication is being sent via e-mail in order to save taxpayer dollars. If you would like a written letter, please notify our office. The information contained herein is intended for the use of the individual or entity named above. Please do not tamper with or alter this communication in any way.

A shorter response from Representative Joe Wilson that acknowledges my support of ACA and mostly just tries to assure me that my input is valued (see bolded text), while going off on a bit of a non-sequitur about how the bill is being implemented:

September 25, 2013Miss Ashley Miller
3001 Blossom St
Columbia, SC 29205-2605

Dear Ashley,

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding your support for the continued implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  I appreciate your taking the time to contact me.

I understand your concerns and welcome your interest in this matter.  As you are aware, the President signed this piece of legislation into law on March 23, 2010.  Since that time, much of the implementing authority has been passed to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with a majority of provisions set to take effect at the beginning of 2014.

Until that time, please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind should legislation pertaining to this issue come before me on the House floor during the 113th Congress.

It is an honor to represent the people of the Second Congressional District of South Carolina, and I value your input.

If I may be of further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
(signed)

So there you go.

Republicans in DC: Stop claiming to care about life

As you know, I am from South Carolina, one of the worst states in the union, politically speaking. Occasionally I get really angry about some stupid something people who claim me as a constituent are doing in DC, supposedly on my behalf.

STOP TRYING TO SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT

Sorry. I have spent literally my entire adult life wishing I had access to insurance that would cover my pre-existing conditions, women’s healthcare, and mental healthcare. I am not exaggerating when I say that this has been one of the most important concerns in my life. Because I developed severe allergies and asthma when I was 7, insurance and medical costs have driven so many of my life choices. Other people have had it far worse than I do, I don’t claim any special claim to bad circumstances, but I tell you the fact that, as of January 1, I will have, regardless of my employment situation, access to full healthcare coverage is such a relief that it makes me want to cry.

And *my* representatives are participating in these shame shutdown shenanigans because they want to take that away from me.  That makes me angry.  So I wrote a letter to Joe “You Lie” Wilson, against whom I ran a write-in campaign that may have earned me votes into the double-digits, Lindsey Graham, and Tim Scott.  By the time I got to Tim Scott, I had perhaps over-flourished it all, but you can judge for yourself.

Senator Scott,

I am really struggling with the behavior of Republicans in Washington, DC right now. Shutting down the government in what appears to be an attempt to hurt the poorest of your constituents.

I am a 29 year old woman who works a full-time job, two part-time jobs, and is in school full-time as well. Despite this, the only insurance I have access to currently is individual insurance, which can deny me for my pre-existing asthma. Furthermore, it is impossible to get individual maternity coverage in South Carolina. Unless you are part of a group plan, you cannot get maternity coverage at all in this state. If I get pregnant it is far more economically feasible for me to abort than to have a child, and not because I am not willing to pay for coverage, but because out of pocket a birth can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

If you were honestly pro-life, you’d support women getting access to that care. If you were honestly pro-life, you’d support everyone getting access to healthcare.

This is all changing on January 1 thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Starting then, I will have access to care regardless of my childhood asthma and that care will cover maternity. I have spent my entire life wishing that I’d have access to that some day — and now Republicans are trying to take that away from me. It feels like you’re playing political football with my ability to afford having a family.

I am not some lazy bum and I am not looking for handouts, I just think that I shouldn’t have to work so hard to still face catastrophic bankruptcy if something wonderful like pregnancy should befall me. Offer me an alternate plan, offer me a promise that South Carolina insurance providers will have to offer maternity coverage and coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. Or stop claiming to care about life.

Regards, Ashley

I mean, I might have upped the pathos dial a bit much, but goddammit, could you just care about people instead of politics for once?  Also, how infuriating is it that South Carolina is not the only state in which it is literally impossible for a woman to get individual maternity coverage!  HOW MESSED UP IS THAT

No Confidence: Thoughts on Election 2012

I’ve seen several Obama endorsements over the past few days, all of them acknowledging that Obama is flawed, but then making mostly negative cases.  They endorse Obama despite himself because of how much they despise the policies, campaign, and ignorance of the Romney campaign.

JT has the most detailed explanation of why you should vote Obama, Jen McCreight (who I love) has a short and not totally reasonable post against third-party votes, PZ has a detailed argument against third parties, and Andrew Tripp has an argument that we need more George McGoverns and fewer Obamas.

On the issues, I’m actually fairly close to Obama on most fronts.  He’s center-right, I’m left-center — I usually score a bit closer to Jill Stein though she and I have differences — but as candidates who represent your point-of-view, I don’t have any major problems with Obama that are also things I think he can realistically do anything about.  Yes, he is authoritarian in some of his presidential powers, but it is going to take someone truly extraordinary in the job of the presidency to reduce the amount of power of the job — or a strong Congress willing to take responsibility for their actions.  (I highly recommend Drift by Rachel Maddow if you’re interested in this topic).

So, if you love Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson or even, FSM forbid, Gary Johnson or Virgil Goode, what should you do?  According to my internet friends, vote for Obama.

PZ:

I’m not saying that we’re doomed, though, just that the presidential race is the wrong place to effect change.

He’s not totally wrong, but the fact of the matter is that the Green Party is putting up a lot of candidates across the country in many different levels of government.  Having a loss-leader green party candidate to get more attention for local races, and to try to get more matching funds for the party as a whole, makes a lot of sense.  Even I, denizen of a red district in a red state, have the opportunity to throw my vote away to a Green Party candidate other than Jill Stein.

Jen:

If you’re voting third-party, you’re voting for Romney. Stop being an idealist and wake up to the reality of how our system works. I agree we need to have more parties in the dialog – trust me, I’d be way happier voting for someone more liberal like Jill Stein if I had the knowledge my voice would be heard – but that’s not going to happen by throwing your vote away and helping a Republican win.

This needs a huge caveat that this is only true if you live in a state where there’s any question of who is going to win the election.  The reality is that less than 20% of the American population lives somewhere where their vote has the potential to matter in the overall election.  It’s not me in South Carolina, it’s not Jen in Seattle, it’s not PZ in Minnesota, but it is JT in Ohio.  A vote for a third-party isn’t a vote for Romney unless you live in Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, or Virginia.

I agree with JT’s conclusion:

Here’s what I suggest.  If you live in a state that is already decided (California, Texas, etc.), vote third-party.  Why?  Because in 1992 Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote as a third-party candidate, and that was not meaningless.  If forced the two dominant parties to realize that the people were pissed off.  That led to bi-partisan efforts that undoubtedly contributed to Bill Clinton’s success.  Even if it’s unrealistic to expect a third-party candidate to win, at least for the time being, I believe sending that message is still important.  Is it a perfect fix?  No, but it’s something to do in the meantime that doesn’t carry the risk of pissed away votes in swing states opening the door for the lesser of the two candidates with a legitimate shot at winning this year.

Now, let’s look at my ballot in South Carolina, so that I can show you why I am really not upset with people who don’t bother to go to the polls on election day.  So, you’re in the 80% of the country that doesn’t matter at all presidentially, surely you matter locally, right?  Not necessarily.  A third of the races in SC are people running unopposed.  Not only is this true for school boards or council seats, it’s true of the state house and senate.  It’s also true of one of our national house races.

The other day I was listening to NPR and a Californian called in to complain that, thanks to a new combined primary format, several places in CA had people of the same party running against each other in the general election, and he was very upset.  I wanted to call and scream because I am going to be given a ballot that says this:

House Representative District 02
Joe Wilson (REP)

The fact that I am de facto supporting Joe “You Lie” Wilson alone makes me not want to show up at the polling place.  Knowing that every single race where I do have a choice is going to go to the Republican doesn’t make me any more eager to waste the hour or so of my time it will take me to go to the polling place.  Of the 12 races I am voting on, 7 are people running unopposed.  The rest are polling strongly against my choices.  I can’t even write-in the presidential race for the amazing Rocky Anderson.

Geography has determined that I will never cast a vote for a winner.  A meaningless protest vote is literally all I have.  So here’s my recommendation: vote, but vote for whoever makes you feel good about voting in the first place.  Because the real work is everything we do to get the right people on the ballots in the first place and trying to convince those already in power to do the right thing.

Unless you live in Ohio.

South Carolina Democrats Fail Shamefully

My representative

Not one Democrat has entered the race for the US House of Representatives against Joe Wilson.  The party has entirely failed to recruit or field a candidate for a national office against a man who is an absolute disgrace to this state.  They also have not responded to my inquiries as to why they’ve failed to do so.  This shows not only a flagrant disregard for the state, but also a complete failure of priorities.

Normally when I am embarrassed at politics in my home state of South Carolina, it is because an individual Republican politician has done something that makes me cringe.  They disappear on the Appalachian Trail, say women don’t care about contraception, or scream “You lie!” during the State of the Union.  I am a generous person and I’m willing to allow that it’s really none of my business that Mark Sanford was having an affair, though there were some legitimate governmental interests involved in that story, and maybe Nikki Haley really meant to say women don’t only care about contraception, but other things as well.  But there is nothing about Joe Wilson’s outburst that is forgivable.

I care deeply about the truth, but there is a time and a place for pointing out perceived falsehoods and if a Democrat had screamed “You lie!” during one of George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses, I would have condemned them as well.  There is a rebuttal aired immediately after the address just for such claims!  You’ve got a platform that doesn’t require being rude!

Of course, caring deeply about the truth, I should also point out that Joe Wilson was monstrously incorrect when he claimed that President Obama was lying.  If you’re going to be completely unnecessarily rude, at least get your facts straight first!

There’s nothing about Joe Wilson’s political career that redeems him from this behavior.  He is a supporter of keeping the treasonous rebel flag on Statehouse grounds.  He’s repeatedly voted to limit the rights of his gay constituents and of the country, he’s voted to make the PATRIOT act permanent and to remove our fourth amendment constitutional right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure, he does not support scientific research, he does not support women’s rights, he consistently votes against education in a state that desperately needs better education, and he is a religious fundamentalist who doesn’t believe in separation of church and state.

The filing deadline has passed and I wish someone with any basic decency had taken the opportunity to use the public platform to bring some truth and dignity to the race, rather than more of the cowardly lies that Joe Wilson has to offer.  I wish I’d had $3,500 dollars and any knowledge of how to run a campaign or join a race because he’s the representative of MY district and I am mad as hell.  Perhaps Dick Harpootlian, the SCDem chair, should spend more time trying to get Democrats elected and less time insulting women, accusing Republicans of being gay, and schmoozing with Stephen Colbert.

South Carolinians deserve choices when it comes to sending a representative to Washington DC, but it looks like the 40% my district and of the state that votes blue is going to continue to be disenfranchised by a failure of the party and a failure of the system.