Confused by the debate about health care reform? You’re not the only one.
"Based on what they see on the news, I think it's impossible for people to understand what’s happening," says Alwyn Cassil, director of public affairs at the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, D.C. "Health care reform is a lot more complicated than all the finger-pointing suggests."
Watching the contentious town halls and the ferocious debates on political talk shows can be less informative than unsettling. You can wind up feeling uncertain of what’s right – and powerless.
But you're far from powerless. There’s a lot that you can do right now to understand health care reform better and make your opinion count. This is a historic moment in the U.S. What happens in the coming months will have a huge and lasting impact on how the health care system works -- for us and our families.
Health Care Reform: What’s the Problem?
Many policy experts -- regardless of their politics -- say that U.S. health care is in crisis. About 46 million Americans have no health insurance. People with pre-existing health conditions find it difficult, costly – and sometimes impossible – to get health insurance. We spend much more on health care than other industrialized nations, yet have poorer health when judged by the number of preventable deaths and other measures.
"If our health care is supposed to help us have longer, healthier, more productive lives, we’re just not doing as well as we should be," says Stephen C. Schoenbaum, MD, director of the Commission on a High Performance Health System at the Commonwealth Fund in New York City.
Moreover, the current system is draining us financially, he says. "It's contributing to our national indebtedness, eroding our wages, and [hampering] our ability to deal with critical issues like education and infrastructure.” Indeed, about 17.6% of all spending in the U.S. pays for some form of health care – money that might otherwise be spent on schools, roads, and pensions.
Many experts agree that some change is needed. The question is: what type of change, and how will it affect you?
As the health reform debate continues, and legislation is considered, here are five ways you can begin to understand and get involved in health care reform.
1. Get Informed
It's not easy to get balanced information about the proposals for health care reform. Our political parties are polarized and there's a staggering amount of jargon – universal coverage, medical underwriting, community rating, public option, health care co-ops, and so on.
Where do you begin? You can find some of the actual legislative proposals online, but they can be a tough slog. Cassil recommends looking at the side-by-side comparisons of the bills from the Kaiser Family Foundation.