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Healthcare Reform: Too Big To Fail

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Rumors of the demise of healthcare reform have been greatly exaggerated. After Scott Brown’s upset victory for the Massachusetts Senate seat, the news media and blogosphere are abuzz. Ah, folks, we have ourselves an official media frenzy! Let the hyperbole begin: “The world has changed,” “Everything is different now,” “It’s the end of the Democrats,” “Obama’s agenda is over,” and most concerning to me, “Healthcare reform is dead.”


The notion that “healthcare reform is dead” is wishful thinking by some who believe that repeating the phrase often enough will make it so. (And perhaps it will…the echo chamber has worked before to defeat both logic and truth!) And the notion begins to feel almost inevitable thanks to the ever-escalating rhetoric from pundits who need to generate a provocative headline or sound-byte to be heard above the noise of their peers, who are proclaiming the same doom-and-gloom scenarios over on the next news channel or blog site. In our modern, shock-and-awe world, the more provocative and extreme the claim, the better.


Yes, Brown’s victory should be a wakeup call for Democrats, the White House, and arguably all politicians about the frustration flashpoint that voters are reaching due to the recession, the fear we have of change—especially about something as personal as healthcare, and the continuum from distrust to disgust that the majority of Americans hold towards a highly polarized Congress. But we’re ready to scrap much-needed reform of the largest sector of our economy because of a “January surprise” in a special election for a single Senator? We’re once again prepared to have our healthcare held hostage by the whims of a single Senator or to avoid bringing bills forward out of fear of a filibuster?


This is nonsense. This is scary. This is wrong.


Healthcare reform is, in the vernacular of the day, too big—and too big of an issue—to fail. To allow politics-as-usual to derail and destroy healthcare reform as a national priority is as foolish as us walking away from the fight against terrorism. Congress and the White House both know full well that we can’t afford not to do healthcare reform—that it is a vital “national interest.” That Medicare insolvency is a real and increasingly imminent threat. That we’ve not designed a care delivery system to withstand the pressures of the age wave. That the cost of treating the uninsured in emergency rooms is unsustainable. That the rise of obesity and chronic disease is wiping out investment dollars that we could use for other parts of our economy. That Americans want, need, and expect to be covered by our insurance even when we have preexisting conditions. And that we can’t continue to be a globally competitive country without reforming healthcare.


I’ve spent the past year working specifically on these healthcare reform bills, as someone new to advocacy and naïve about “beltway behavior.” Other than a few, rare exceptions, I have to be honest that I have been discouraged by what I have witnessed.


Opponents, armed with the echo chamber of talk radio and blogs, have used despicable fear tactics to frighten Americans away from the facts in these bills. They have decided that making the President fail on healthcare reform is their best election 2010 strategy, even threatening and silencing members of their own party who actually wanted to negotiate and compromise on a real reform bill. They’ve waged a campaign of misinformation and emotional manipulation.


Proponents, armed with the hubris of leading both houses of Congress and the Presidency, have shut out real debate and stifled meaningful bipartisan negotiation with healthcare reform, thus setting the tone of hostility early on. They have decided that “healthcare reform at any cost” is their best strategy, and have deployed their own fear tactics that needlessly vilified insurance companies while silencing the more moderate parts of their own party. They have failed to explain to the American people the content and logic of their proposals and squandered away the public approval—that they had at the start of the process—for reforming healthcare.  


The White House, meanwhile, has sat on the sidelines of the healthcare reform debate for far too long out of fear of repeating the perceived “interventionist” mistakes of President Clinton. President Obama needs to be the Communicator-In-Chief to explain to the American people why these reform measures are necessary and why they will work. He now can step in to drive—and insist upon—a truly bipartisan “campaign” for healthcare reform, instead of allowing the nation to obsess more about the political process for passing the bill than the main points that were in it. And he must make the moral and competitive case that healthcare reform is crucial for our stature and status as a global leader and standards bearer for Democracy.


And finally, we as citizens have let ourselves be “entertained” by the political fray instead of being “informed” and “insistent” about healthcare reforms that the majority of us desperately need. We have somehow come to expect, even relish, the spectacle of the crazies—of every ideological stripe—taking center stage in our national debate that has become more like an ongoing “reality show” than an authentic attempt to derive real solutions for our country. We’ve tolerated, even rewarded, mediocrity from our national leaders. We’ve too easily believed the internet rumor, the talk radio commentator, or the water cooler conversation without doing our homework to really research and understand these complex healthcare issues. And we’ve failed to mobilize ourselves, the now-silent-again majority of Americans who chanted “yes we can” during the Presidential election but haven’t followed through on our commitments to real change.


I refuse to accept the view that “this is just the way it is” when it comes to Washington. That it’s just “human nature” or “politics as usual.” Those are just cynical cop-outs. We can all expect—and do—better.  


Healthcare reform is too big to fail. We must demand that our government leaders actually lead and get real healthcare reform done this year. Let real debate occur. Stop living in fear of a filibuster—let it, and the consequences of wasting the public’s time and money with silly political games, occur under the glaring spotlight of the media and the blogosphere. If the current bill is politically impossible to achieve in its entirety, then let’s go with the “a la carte” approach instead of the smorgasbord. Let’s, for example, put forth the bill focused specifically on ending the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions. Or the bill that brings the uninsured into the fold of quality coverage. Then we’ll see just how many members of Congress decide to vote against these more popular reforms in an election year.


Or most radical of all: let’s have the President call together a mix of members (including the silenced moderates) from both parties to start again with real bipartisan negotiation and to put the country—not the November elections—first. Back in his speech to Congress in the fall, the President said that there is bipartisan agreement on a high percentage of the proposals. If this is true, focus on those as the foundation of healthcare reform that can pass this year. Save the disagreements and the controversies for later.


We have seen how successful bipartisan legislation can be at times of national crisis – terrorist attacks, natural disasters.  Let’s ask Congress to take that same approach to the economic crisis we surely face as a country if the largest part of that economy—healthcare—is left with an unsustainable status quo and potential collapse. We already have the intelligence about when, where, and how this healthcare crisis will occur. We can still do something about it. Healthcare reform is too big, too important to fail…we must refuse to be too small, too self-important to let it succeed. For our own good.


Comments are welcome.  please post to: http://blogs.intel.com/healthcare/


NOTE:  ERIC DISHMAN'S 'HOME BLOG' PAGE HAS MOVED TO:  blogs.intel.com/healthcare.