Friday, April 16, 2010

Health Reform Unpopular

Recent polls show that President Obama's poll numbers are down, and the primary reason for this is discontent with his health insurance reform plan. I contend that the discontent is not with the plan itself, but with what people THINK is in the plan -- which appears to be vastly different from reality.

I was on a panel at the University of Connecticut Law School on health reform last night. A colleague of mine, Jill Zorn, a program officer at the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut, told a story. One of the many tales being told across the heartland is that in 2014, all newborns will have a computer chip implanted in them. If you look at the pages of the law that are cited for this ridiculous proposition, you would see that they reference CHIP -- the Children's Health Insurance Program. And that's all it takes to make up a lie.

We've had death panels, and now this. When will the message war end? Health reform detractors seem intent on saying whatever they need to say to scare people, to anger them, to try to rile them up in opposition to health reform. What I can't quite figure out still, after all this time, is what is motivating them?

Everybody agrees that the status quo is unsustainable and broken. Something needed to change. Several Republican proposals were incorporated into the final legislation, but they still oppose it. My gut tells me that this is about trying to bring down President Obama and a Democrat Congress, and that it has nothing to do with health reform at all.

As you know, 19 states are bringing lawsuits to stop the new law from taking effect. I challenged a room full of lawyers, law students, and advocates to tell me what the legal argument is. A mandate to purchase health insurance if you can afford it, or to enroll and have the government help you pay for it is you can't, violates what? At a time when states are struggling financially, bringing frivolous lawsuits that will cost millions of dollars is totally irresponsible.

The fear-mongering comes down to a basic mistrust of government, and the federal government in particular. I understand this. But the federal government already controls and administers the health care of many millions of Americans -- Medicare, Medicaid, federal employees, the military and veterans, federal prisoners, and on and on. What's happening here is not so much an expansion of federal power as it is a shift in the relationship among the federal government, states, insurers, health care providers, pharmaceuticals, and other stakeholders -- including patients.

Much of the specifics of health reform remains to be determined by regulatory process and implementation. But I promise you, there are no death panels, no computer chips implanted, nothing sinister. At bottom, although we "won" health reform, we lost the message war, and that may be the biggest task left to accomplish -- we must educate the public so that they understand the true nature of health reform. Jennifer

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