Why Healthcare Reform is Struggling – A Failure to Communicate

Back in the 1990s when I was working as Policy Director at AIDS Project Los Angeles, I was having trouble getting an appointment with a particular Congressman to discuss proposed cuts to the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) funding.  My calls went unanswered.  So I did something that still makes my Hill friends uncomfortable when I tell them the story – I took a full page ad out in his home district newspaper that explained that the was cutting HOPWA funding and how many dollars less would now flow to his district as a result.  The next day, I got my appointment. Why?  Because his constituency understood what was at stake and took action.

That is what is the missing link in healthcare reform.  People do not understand why they should care about passage of a bill or why it needs to be now.

Gwen Ifill on Washington Week this week made the case quite succinctly.  She said that the bill needs to be passed now because after August, budget numbers will come out that will demonstrate how large the deficit has become while also showing how government income has dropped and that everyone will be frozen in their seats after that.  It won't happen next year because nothing happens during an election year.  Therefore if President Obama is going to get it, the window of time is narrow.

I don't think most people realize that.  But here also is what most people don't realize.  No one has made the case, on the granular level, what a failure to have health care reform means to each of us as individuals.  People have a vague understanding that we have a broken healthcare system, but also there are polls that demonstrate that most people are satisified with their own healthcare benefits.  That is a disconnect that has not been connected in order for people to feel passionately about healthcare reform.  What is the consequence in voters own lives that will come about as a result of healthcare reform's passage or failure?  Where is the full page ad that explains the impact on my life at the local level?

Today's WaPo carries a front page article that states that President Obama's standing in polls has dropped below 50%.  We have one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world, but it is grossly inefficient, spending vast amounts on paperwork, lacking in health IT that increases medical error and lowers quality.  Our system is incredibly expensive and we spend a great deal of money simply on paperwork.  Why not favor healthcare reform?

Because no one has connected the dots that explain how reform is going to actually make a better system.  No one has said how any of the bills in Congress is going to lower costs.  No one has explained how the bill will increase efficiency.  No one has explained how it is going to convert an expensive and inefficient paper system to a streamlined digital one and how that might benefit me as a consumer of healthcare.   No one has even explained how covering the uninsured might make healthcare more affordable as a large number of the population quit using the emergency room as their primary care physician.  

The only thing people have heard about health care reform is the price tag.  Is anyone in favor of a price tag for an unknown quantity?  I doubt it. 

The Administration has failed to make a case.  They need to take the full page ad out and explain what healthcare reform means for each and every American.  They need to do it tomorrow.  
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