Monday, April 12, 2010
Being jam-packed with a potpourri of travelers at the airport is often one of my favorite and least favorite parts of going on vacation. The pinnacle of patience-trying came last week from an overheard conversation while waiting to board my Denver to Seattle flight. “Well I had my heart surgery last month and boy am I glad that I got it before this whole health care thing kicks in, cause who knows what’s gonna happen! One thing I know…I don’t want no Obama care. People are gonna start droppin’ like flies cause they won’t be able to get the care they need.” His comments were met with half-hearted nods (was the other guy thinking what I was thinking? Best not to start something with someone you’re about to be confined in a tight space with for the next 2 ½ hours?).
While reading my book on the flight, I came across an interesting passage on the Child and Family Services Act of 1975. The bill would’ve made childcare available to every family that wanted it, in a program run by the federal government. The legislation seemed to be going nowhere, yet out of the blue legislators began to receive thousands of angry letters from constituents who were under the impression that the bill would allow children to form unions, and sue their parents for making them do their chores. These misconceptions were traced back to a flyer created by the leader of a Kansas Bible Camp who had confused the bill with a “children’s bill of rights” that had been circulated at one point. Since creating it, the man had realized that nothing on the flyer was true and was “sort of sorry” about it. Does this whole scenario sound a little bit familiar?
I’m sure it wasn’t the first, and certainly not the only time that outrageous claims have destroyed a piece of legislation. In the fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment falsehoods tore through the country like wildfire; claims that women would be forced to use men’s bathrooms and pregnant women would have to join state militias. And then there’s our more present example…
The Obama administration certainly has its work cut out for it, crossing the country, trying to straighten out public misconceptions about the health care bill. Though some of the more egregious fallacies have been debunked (ie: offing Grandma), there still seems to be a gaping hole where public understanding of what the bill accomplishes (and doesn’t accomplish) should be.
I get it…there’s a lot of information to wade through in this bill. But though the world might seem much easier to grasp with absolutes and catchphrases like “nationalization” and “socialist communist Nazi corporatist,” like everything else, health care reform is nuanced. For example, people like to talk about whether or not insurance premiums will be higher than they are now, once the state-run exchanges are implemented in 2014. Though it’s true that they will be higher (name me one thing that won’t cost more in 2014), the increase will be far less than it would’ve been, had the bill not passed. There are some pretty great things that this bill does and also some things that it lacks. And in these days of the internet, we have some great tools to help break things down for us (for instance this New York Times interface called “How The Health Care Overhaul Could Affect You”.)
The important thing, especially in light of challenges the bill is bound to face, is to engage in a real debate that involves fact rather than fiction, and as Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently suggested at a town hall meeting “get a perspective…know what other people's thoughts are -- not just what (you) hear through a pipe channel.”
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