The Health Care Kerfuffle: Dialogue, Anyone?

I must be hanging around the wrong media. Only two days ago did I become aware of the wild rumors surrounding health care reform.

The strangest of the strange is that under the new plan, seniors must undergo counseling that encourages them to cut their lives short. (Factcheck.org, an arm of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, debunks this rumor in a recent post.)  But there are other rumors as well: The plan amounts to government rationing of health care. Ordinary people would lose their current insurance under the proposed plan. Health care reform will cover illegal immigrants.

Some of these rumors, on their face, involve legitimate concerns and deserve accurate answers. Others don’t stand up to a moment’s thought. The key for our discussion here, though, is that none of them are true—and yet some government leaders and pundits keep spreading them.

This is reprehensible: not just because misinformation is reprehensible in itself, but because it makes serious dialogue—which might lead to a more satisfactory resolution—much more difficult.

This is nothing new, of course. With every issue du jour, it seems, comes at least one claim or well-turned phrase that subtly shapes public perceptions. That might be fine if the phrase precisely captured the truth of the issue at hand. Unfortunately, those who craft such phrases are often less interested in seeking out truth—or even dialogue—than in promoting their argument.

As an example, think of how Republicans have used the “tax and spend” label to taint legislation from Democrats, regardless of the merit of the particular bill at hand. (Don’t most bills—even those for the best programs—involve taxation and spending?) Or consider the phrase “a woman’s right to choose” (or even the terms pro-choice and pro-life), as if the entire complexity and delicacy of the abortion question could be boiled down to a single sound bite.

When we hear these words and phrases over and over, we automatically begin to assume that they’re the only way to think about the issue. To borrow a business cliché, these terms set the “box”—and make it more difficult to think outside it.

Health care reform is far too complex and nuanced an issue to reduce to sound bites, let alone wild rumors. Dialogue, in contrast, would help us explore those nuances and bring them into the light. But where do we start?

Maybe we start with questions. Last year, realizing how woefully ignorant I was about single-payer and HSAs and whatnot, I started asking questions about health care. Maybe the answers to the questions we raise would start a dialogue. Maybe the dialogue would take hold—and reach the people who make the decisions.

Idealistic? Perhaps. But dialogue has more potential to generate a satisfactory solution than the rumors do. So let’s start the conversation.

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