We Can’t Communicate About Healthcare

About a month ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation did a pretty standard survey about Americans’ awareness of healthcare reform. The results of the survey, however, were slightly less than standard: 40% of Americans, and over 50% of people ages 18-29, are unaware of implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

This news should be shocking to supporters of healthcare reform and detractors alike. After all,  House Republicans just voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act for the 37th time last week. South Carolina’s Representative Mick Mulvaney knows theyr’e doing the right thing: “The guys who’ve been up here the last year, we can go home and say, ‘Listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace Obamacare,’…tell me what the new guys are supposed to say?”

Yes, what are the new guys supposed to say, Rep. Mulvaney?

Lost in this madness is a bigger story: neither Republicans nor Democrats have successfully communicated anything about healthcare reform. Despite their best efforts to convince Americans that they’re trying to overturn the law, Republicans can’t even convince Americans the law still exists. And despite Democrats actually attempting to act on the law’s provisions and begin open enrollment in October, it’s looking increasing unlikely that most Americans know what “open enrollment” means.

This is not a new problem; it is notoriously difficult to communicate the nuances of any major policy changes. But healthcare can get particularly dicey, because as I discussed last week, this is ultimately a discussion about the politics of life and death.

Conservatives really took that to heart in 2009. Remember death panels?

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care.

The law actually said nothing like this, of course – the reference was really to an end-of-life planning section of the bill – but the fact that this became such a typical element of conversation about healthcare reform in the first place should be an indication that policymakers really have no idea how to speak seriously about the issue. Can’t convince Americans that the bill is bad on its merits? Let’s make them think we’re sending them to a The Giver-like demise!

Republicans and Democrats alike desperately need to do a better job of communicating, because especially with regard to healthcare, people deserve to know the truth of what’s going on around them. It is not each individual’s responsibility to fact-check the media and political voices they have learned to trust. 



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