Four Ways Republicans Can Win Women on Healthcare

Four steps Republicans can take to persuade those most affected by changes.


More than 8 in 10 Americans are satisfied with the quality of their healthcare, and nearly 3 out of 4 say they like their overall healthcare coverage, according to a recent CNN poll. Just over half said they'd like their healthcare to cost less—who wouldn't?—but the point is that the majority of Americans are happy.

Those Americans who deal with healthcare issues the most—submitting insurance claims, taking kids to the doctor, scheduling appointments, selecting a physician, taking care of sick loved ones—are more likely to be women, because more women than men act as caregivers in their families. That means that a good percentage of those 8 in 10 happy people are women.

That holds true for the number of people who are concerned with high costs. Women pay more than men do for their healthcare, which accounts for the majority in that poll saying they're not happy about the high cost of their own healthcare. A New York Times state-by-state survey of women's healthcare costs last fall found that 20-something women in Dallas who buy coverage from the Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool pay 39 percent more than men of the same age. In Nebraska, the numbers are similar: A 35-year-old woman pays 32 percent more than a man of the same age for coverage from the state insurance pool. "In general, insurers say, they charge women more than men of the same age because claims experience shows that women use more healthcare services. They are more likely to visit doctors, to get regular checkups, to take prescription medications and to have certain chronic illnesses," the Times reported. (It forgot to mention that we're far more likely than men to have babies.)

The fact that women are more involved with the healthcare system creates an opening for Republicans as the healthcare reform battle looms. Here are four ways the GOP can attract women to support its healthcare proposals—and not incidentally start winning them back more broadly:

  • Keep 'em happy. Remind American women that they already have the best doctors, the best hospitals, the most cutting-edge medical technology, the best research, and the best scientists in the world. All Republicans need to do is find a way to take care of the minority of people who don't have access to the system—not turn the whole system upside down for the vast majority of American families who are happy with their doctor and like their coverage. Let's fix what's wrong, not ruin it for everybody.
  • Manage the scope of the project. Radical restructuring of our entire healthcare system is scary to people. So is enacting a massive new entitlement that can never be repealed—on top of the $787 billion stimulus bill, the nationalization of automakers, the ongoing cost of two wars, and deficits as far as the eye can see. Why not pick one or two manageable aspects of the system that need fixing and focus on why those are good for women? The Republicans' healthcare policies, as listed on the Republican National Committee website, include the big issues of Medicare reform, tax credits, and reducing costs. But then they throw in the kitchen sink, hitting on a range of topics like intellectual property rights for researchers, catastrophic care, "surge capacity" in national disasters, frivolous lawsuits, and the right of conscience for healthcare providers, to name only a few. Too much. Narrow it down, and unite behind one or two key proposals.
  • Stay out of the gutter. It's OK to call the Democrats' proposals "nationalization of our healthcare system" and even "socialized medicine." But please don't call anybody "socialist" or "communist" or, for that matter, "racist." There's been too much of that lately. Women want to hear Republicans make a good case for their proposals, not get dragged into a shout-fest questioning their opponents' motives and character.
  • Speak in plain English. Peggy Noonan wrote recently that she thinks the mumbo-jumbo language used by the healthcare industry purposely confuses Americans. I agree. It's almost as if people in Washington don't want us to understand what they're proposing. Republicans should not use words like single-payer system and first-dollar coverage and portability when they really mean government-run system, no deductible, and take your coverage from job to job. Don't talk about healthcare consumers; talk about families, moms and dads, grandparents. Every Republican who gives a speech or puts out a press release on healthcare in the next few months should use Paul Harvey's "Aunt Betty" test: If it's too complicated or too boring for Aunt Betty in Missouri, it should not go on the air or in print.

The best thing Republicans can do to win women over in the healthcare battle is to appeal to their better natures by being compassionate but also cost-conscious, by not engaging in character assassination, and by standing up together for a few important but positive changes. If women see that the Republican Party wants them—instead of government bureaucrats or insurance executives—to remain in control of their own families' healthcare choices, then women will think twice about ObamaCare. Women have more to lose than men do under a radically changed healthcare system. Empowering patients and their families, ensuring access for the many women and children who can't afford it, and reducing costs in a common-sense, free-market way all have tremendous appeal to women. It's up to the GOP to let them know it.