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Trump needs to become the marketer-in-chief for the healthcare bill

050417 Hillyer Blog Post
The poorly named American Health Care Act does the first part: It substantially improves upon Obamacare. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Policy wonks will soon be hyperventilating about all the changes the Senate supposedly must make to turn the House-passed healthcare bill into "acceptable" legislation. But they should save their breath. The most important hurdle facing the Senate is not the substance — it's the sales pitch.

No bill is ever going to be perfect. No bill needs to be perfect. Our Madisonian system is not meant for that which is perfect, but instead for law that is "plenty good enough" for a free people to understand, test out, learn from, and modestly tweak (but not radically change) in coming years.

But as Madison said in Federalist No. 62, "It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood."

Any new law which substantially improves upon the current system for a substantial majority of the public while not unfairly burdening others, even if it might fall short of some platonic ideal, is a law worth passing, as long as the citizenry understands and accepts it.

The poorly named American Health Care Act does the first part: It substantially improves upon Obamacare. Its elimination of a trillion dollars in taxes will help individuals, businesses, job creation and overall economic growth. Its elimination of the individual and employer mandates will increase freedom and, for many, reduce costs. Its encouragement of the states to experiment with better Medicaid provisions (including work requirements for the able-bodied), different coverage options, and different ways of providing for higher-risk patients will effectively create laboratories in which policymakers can actually discover what does and doesn't work.

Its vast expansion of health savings accounts will continue an ongoing revolution in health insurance that promotes individual choice, market-based cost controls, and a continued phase-down of the pernicious third-party-payer system.

The combination of these and other provisions (including better-funded "high-risk pools") will, for the vast majority of Americans, drive down (or seriously slow the cost growth in) premiums and deductibles. Individuals will have more options to choose the coverage that best fits their personal needs, and to avoid overpaying for coverage they don't need. Unlike with Obamacare, most people really will be able to "choose their own plans" and "keep their chosen doctors."

Right now, though, the American people don't know these things.

One reason they don't know them is because we don't have a president who can explain things, or who even tries to do so. President Trump doesn't explain; he just mouths slogans or declarative sentences.

Those declarative sentences work for him, though. They can be a helpful part of a sales pitch, but they do no good for those not already inclined to believe him.

If Trump pulled a President Ronald Reagan-with-a-twist sort of national address, though, he could help the cause immensely. He could open such an address by saying that he demanded from the House, and received, a bill that will reduce premiums and deductibles, cut taxes, and improve patient choice, while saving taxpayer money. He could talk tough, as in, "Those were my non-negotiable demands."

Then, after setting the stage, he could say: "Vice President Mike Pence has worked on these issues for 15 years. In honor of his tireless efforts, I now turn it over to him to tell you how he and the House made this work — and why the Senate, perhaps with a few small improvements, should be proud to pass it."

The reality is that the Senate won't pass it unless senators hear a groundswell of public support. And the groundswell won't come unless somebody provides a reason for enthusiasm. Instead of enthusiasm, what most of the public feels is either fear (driven by the Democrats' narrative) or confusion (catalyzed by the messy House process and by the outrageously over-hyped criticism of the bill from the Right).

While Trump and Pence are making a prime-time public pitch, their administration and its allies should be doing a full-court press, with advertising, akin to what conservative groups did to promote Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Replacing Obamacare should be a supremely popular cause. The uber-marketer Trump, of all people, should know that confusion doesn't turn to popularity without a sales pitch – and, perhaps, with a re-branding, which is another Trump specialty. So: Sell, sell, sell. The bill is a pretty darn good one. It's time to give it a good polish, and maybe some ribbons.

Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner.

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