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Unpublished Paper
The Racialization of US Health Care Reform: The Case of Gold-Plated Cadillac Health Plans
  • Emily West, University of Massachusetts Amherst

The term “gold-plated Cadillac health plans” became nationally prominent during John McCain’s run for President in 2008, and high-premium insurance plans continue to be called “Cadillac plans” today. The metaphorical phrase “gold-plated Cadillac” defines health care as a consumer and even a luxury good; implies that owners of these plans are irresponsible, wasteful healthcare consumers; and evokes the stereotype of an “out-of-control” African American consumer. The history of the Cadillac brand and of gold-plated Cadillacs in particular in popular culture demonstrates the salience of these associations. The use of this phrase in recent health care reform debates is considered in light of past research on the racialization of government benefits and social programs in American public opinion. Although people of color are most likely not the most common recipients of high-premium health insurance plans, this paper argues that the strategy of frequently referencing “gold-plated Cadillac” health plans was used in order to keep the image of wasteful, irresponsible consumers of health care in people’s minds, thereby reinforcing their fears that health care reform would result in the redistribution of national resources from the “deserving” to the “undeserving,” a distinction that is deeply racialized in American society.

  • Healthcare Reform,
  • Consumers,
  • Racial Coding,
  • Benefits Discourse
Publication Date
Citation Information
Emily West. "The Racialization of US Health Care Reform: The Case of Gold-Plated Cadillac Health Plans" (2013)
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