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You’ve heard the litany of twisted health reform clichés at backyard BBQs, cocktail parties, and family functions. Indeed, boiling more than 2,000 pages of legislation and legalese into phrases like “socialized medicine” and “death panels” or from the opposing camp “lower care costs” and even “jobs for Americans” is bound to obscure more than a few facts.
And politicians from both parties spitting one-sentence soundbites like so many propaganda slogans only makes things more chaotic.
“There are a lot of misperceptions about reform. Just like anything that goes through the sausage making process in Washington, D.C. there’s the good, bad, and the ugly that comes out,” says Brian Ahier, health IT evangelist at Mid-Columbia Medical Center and a City Councilor in The Dalles, Oregon. “The general public tends to paint that with a really broad brush without understanding the distinctions, the nuances of health reform.”
Politicians on both sides have done little to help the public understand those intricacies. Republicans are seen as engaging in “obstruction on steroids,” as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this month, while the Democrats have largely failed to even explain the goals and potential benefits of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to American voters.
“The actual performance of ACA supporters in explaining the law and making the case for it to the American public to date has been uneven at best,” explains Henry J. Aaron, the Bruce and Virginia MacLaury senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “During the summer of 2009, the Administration lost control of the narrative about the bill and has been fighting an uphill struggle ever since.”
If past is prologue, three Republican candidates – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and John Huntsman (before leaving the race) – all share a history of dreaming up or signing into law health programs at the very least resembling pieces of President Obama’s law.
But at this stage of the primaries all of the Republican candidates are trying to appear more conservative than the next, and either remain elusive or vague about any healthcare intentions other than claims that, if elected, repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be among the top agenda items.
“That’s an attitude typical of many Republican candidates, where they stick to dogma, philosophy, and political assassination and ignore the true merit of anything,” says democrat Alden Wolfe, vice chairman of the Rockland County, N.Y. Legislature (pictured at left). “If Obama came up with the cure for cancer, they would somehow find fault in it. So that’s where politics divert the sense of reality. It’s the nature of the game.”
Spartanburg County South Carolina Tea Party leader Karen Martin disagrees completely. “That is just another example of a Democrat using a straw man hypothetical to avoid arguing the real issues,” Martin says. “That’s a ridiculous statement with no facts, no research, it’s just the emotional ranting of someone who does not have a solution to the problem.”
What is clear: Healthcare is a sharply divisive issue, and to many, if not most Americans, a concise definition of health reform and the commonalities conservatives and progressive share, are lost amid the politicking.
A noble goal: The triple aim
In terms of communication outreach to get the message across to Americans, names and words matter, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) does not quite paint a clear picture of the health reform superset that also includes the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and industry momentum around health IT.