Wednesday, January 27, 2010

They’ve got some explaining to do

Perhaps, as Paul Newman said in the movie, Cool Hand Luke, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Maybe the problem with health reform isn't necessarily with the health reform bills themselves, but with how they have been explained to the public. Despite widespread media coverage of health reform, apparently, many Americans are still unfamiliar with, or even misunderstand, the key elements of the proposals.

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll (conducted before the special election in Massachusetts), Americans are somewhat evenly divided over pending congressional health reform proposals. This is not news.

What is news is that, in the same survey, many people became far more supportive of the health reform measures after having them explained. “Majorities reported feeling more favorable toward the proposed legislation after learning about many of the key elements, with the notable exceptions of the individual mandate and the overall price tag,” the survey found.

In fact, a majority of respondents felt more positively about 17 of the 27 health reform bill elements tested in the poll after the provisions were explained. Examples of provisions that were viewed more favorably, when explained, include tax credits for small business, health insurance exchanges, efforts to close the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole,” and the elimination of coverage denials for pre-existing conditions.

Better awareness of many lesser-known provisions could have a huge impact in changing minds, the survey suggests. For instance, the fact that the Congressional Budget Office has said health reform would reduce the deficit could substantially change minds. According to the survey, only 15 percent of respondents expected the legislation to reduce the deficit, but 56 percent said hearing that the bills would reduce the deficit makes them more supportive of it.

What does this all mean? Regardless of what method the Democrats choose to advance health reform, if any, they should make it a priority to explain exactly what is and isn’t included in the proposals. Americans can't support health reform if they don't understand it.


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