Slate's verbose but often very interesting Ron Rosenbaum has a windy piece about Democratic sloganeering that begins by stating that "public option" is the worst framing device ever. Americans would support government-sponsored health insurance, he argues, if we merely called it something like, well, government-sponsored health insurance. As he points out, when the Times pollsters described the public option
as "a government administered health insurance plan--something like the
Medicare coverage that people 65 and older can buy," it got two-thirds support. Time for a name change?
Well look, government administered health insurance plan--something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older can buy is worse than the worst framing device ever, because it's not a framing device, it's a long description. And Rosenbaum's other suggestion -- "a government-sponsored health-insurance safety net" -- would be a clever official frame if the idea were to trick dubious Americans into napping through September. The fact is, it's very very difficult to find a good alternative to public option -- Rosenbaum doesn't -- but let's see if we can do better, sticking to no more than three words.
The world option is a little boring and ungalvanizing, because it describes something peripheral, un-immediate ... you know, optional. I have the option to floss right now. My colleague Chris Good has the option to clean his dirty desk. You readers have the option get started on your taxes, or take out the trash when you get home. But these options are dormant and don't really require action (that's especially true for Chris).
Maybe choice would be a better word, because choosing is an action. But it's also charged politically with abortion, as Rosenbaum points out. What about preference, or preferred? That would suggest that the government option wasn't mandatory, but that you should like it better than what you have. How about the anodyne alternative or alternate?
As for public, I have no beef with the word. but Rosenbaum is right that it lacks a certain piquancy. Let's search synonyms: National choice? Maybe that lends itself too easily to nationalized. Common? Guaranteed? That's a pretty safe word. Universal? Could the word government fit without losing 50 percent of the country reflexively?
Or we could think about describing what the public option actually does: It provides cheaper health insurance. Health is a good word. So is relief. So enough brainstorming. My top 3:
Preferred (or public) relief option for health (aka PRO-Health)
National insurance guarantee (Pretty straightforward, and it sounds dependable)
Common-health plan (Sounds like commonwealth! Virginia cheers.)
Truth is, this is tough sledding. Maybe we could just name it like a drug: Insurusal (insure-us-all)! I'd fill that prescription.
Update: I kind of like the idea (via commenter mgoodfel) to mimic Medicare, which is obviously an extremely popular government-run insurance program. I could think of UniCare (which is already a big company), CommonCare, Publicare and NationCare.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.