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Tell Me How to Get, How to Get to Health Care Reform!

jeffrey-feldman iiThe fortieth anniversary of Sesame Street makes me wonder if our long-drawn-out debate on health care might have been better served by the likes of Kermit and Big Bird than it has been by the current cast of broadcast pundits.

I am not suggesting that the biggest policy debate in recent history should have been set to song and presented by talking puppets, but — the media’s contribution to the health care discussion would have been much more useful if it emphasized effective and memorable explanation over political histrionics and diatribe. 

The problem? One year into the discussion, few Americans can speak to the basic core issues in the current health care bill, despite the fact that these details have been available for months and months. And much of the fault lies with the news shows on which we rely.

Stewart, Beck, Olbermann, O’Reilly, Maddow — they have all been great at stoking the political fire, but have any of them taken up the torch of explaining what is actually in the health care reform bill? 

I speak to many people on a daily basis about health care reform, and I cannot remember a single person telling me about a TV news show that explained the basic of the health care bill to them.  Instead, most people simply shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t even know what’s in the bill.”  

Seriously?  One would think the health care reform bill was more complicated than Einstein’s Theory of Relativity based on our collective inability to grasp it’s core concepts.  But, in fact, it is not complicated.  The media has just walked away from the responsibility of explaining health care policy to the American public, and as a result, we could all use a little help — and maybe a catchy song or two.

The basic premise of Sesame Street was that the television could be a unique tool for childhood learning by combining entertainment and explanation.  It was a brilliant success, but can it help us now?

Here are three Sesame Street inspired explanations of the three core concepts that make up the current health care reform bill.  If you can remember these three, you should be good to go:

1. It’s Not Easy Being Sick (Insurance Regulations)

It’s not that easy bein’ sick
Denied insurance ’cause my illness pre-exists.
I think it could be nicer to be well
Or to be healthy like everyone else —
But then again we all someday get sick.

The biggest problem facing the American health care system is the widespread discrimination against sick people by the health insurance industry.   Once you get sick, the health insurance industry starts to treat you differently, resulting in widespread denial of coverage, cancellation of coverage, and denial of reimbursement.  Since everybody eventually gets sick, everybody in America (e.g., 100%) is at risk to this kind of discrimination, and to the physical and financial dangers that result from it (e.g., death and bankruptcy). The current health care bill will make it illegal for health insurers to deny coverage on the basis of so-called pre-existing conditions, to cancel policies as a result of people getting sick, or to refuse reimbursement on the basis of past or current illnesses. 

2. The Exchange, Sweepin’ the Clouds Away (The New Health Insurance Exchange)

The Exchange, helpin’ the uninsured,
On my way, to buy a plan that’s right.
Can you tell me how to get, how to get to the Exchange.

The single largest innovation of the health care reform bill will the creation of a new Health Insurance Exchange.  The Exchange, scheduled to open in 2013, would enable people who do not have health insurance to select from a range of policies.  Beyond the normal health insurance market place, the Exchange would offer consumer protections and affordability credits — subsidies for those who could not afford to pay full price for a policy.  Initially, only those with no other option would be eligible for the Exchange, but moving forward the Exchange would be opened up to a substantial percentage of the population, including private businesses.  Thus, over a relatively short period of time, the Exchange would effectively end the problem of being uninsured by offering access and affordability to those otherwise excluded from the insurance market, Medicaid, and Medicare.

3. Public Option, You’re The One (The Public Insurance Plan)

Public option, you’re the one.
You lower costs by the ton.
Public option, I’m awfully fond of you.
Public option, my joy of joys.
When I pick you, my wellness soars.
You’re not required, you’re just a choice.
Public option, you’re my very best friend, it’s true!

One of the choices available to those eligible for the new Health Insurance Exchange would be a “Public Option” — a non-profit insurance plan created by the government to compete with the private insurance industry.   The “Public Option” would be created by seed money from the Federal Government, but would become self-sustaining within a relatively short period of time.  The purpose of the Public Option is to give people an affordable choice for health insurance coverage if they are not satisfied with the private insurance offerings in the exchange.  Because other government run insurance programs have been shown to deliver the most health care per dollar, it is believed that the public option would deliver equal coverage for lower premiums and co-pays, thereby forcing private insurers to lower their prices. Over time, if the number of people enrolled in the public option reached a high enough level, it would effectively lower the overall cost of health care in America.

These are the three most important points in the health care reform bill that passed the House of Representatives last week: Pre-existing condition reform, the Health Insurance Exchange, and the Public Option.  If you can explain these three things, you can lead a discussion on the topic.  

It is not clear why the media abandoned for the most part its public obligation to explain details to viewers. But it is clear that the U.S. voter, today, needs a show to explain the basic facts of policy debates, much like American children needed a show to help them learn the basics of reading, math, and social skills.

Elmo might not be the best fit for a gig of this sort, but I am sure there are plenty of unemployed Muppets out there who could use the work.

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