Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Tips to get through reform

I’ve tried to be a good citizen and keep up on health care reform. Still, the topic exhausts me. I’m battered by relentless waves of fury and frustrated by the inability of someone (anyone!) to forge a good solution.

I’m not a polished politician, a medical guru who understands the complexities of the health care system or even a financial wizard who can crunch numbers well enough to see the fiscal truth. Sometimes, this leaves me with a bobbing, powerless sensation. I suspect many of you feel the same. Yet, as we face the next round of health care deliberations, we aren’t completely powerless.

We have one big thing in our favor. We care, not just about ourselves, but about others and about our country — and I think that’s enough.

Moreover, if we take time to reflect, we can learn important things from our nationwide health care forum thus far: Inflammatory town hall meetings have driven home an increased call for civility, and curious or questionable statements have taught us to go directly to the source and read things for ourselves.

Moving forward, I’d like to suggest ideas that might help us interact with one another in a positive way regardless of our stance or how the legislation turns out:

1. Realize that our current health care system isn’t working for everyone. While it may satisfy those with employer-paid plans or benefit the insurance moguls themselves, there are plenty of people in need and pain. If you still don’t buy this, then visit your local emergency room, chat with a doctor or nurse in your neighborhood, or speak with someone from a non-profit health organization about the fate of those without health insurance.

2. Remember that moral issues exist whether reform occurs or not. Many people have voiced moral concerns with the bill, and those concerns need to be addressed if people are to be comfortable with reform. But, in reality, moral issues exist whether we change or not. In the story of the Good Samaritan, many people walked by the man who’d been robbed and beaten before anyone stopped to help him. Figuratively, there are all kinds of people lying half-dead on the road right now — and we are passing them by without helping. Perhaps the issue isn’t whether change is necessary, but rather how we go about it.

3. Consider a variety of viewpoints. If you’ve only discussed this issue with people who share your perspective, try expanding your discussions.

4. Don’t discount people’s concerns — attempt to understand and acknowledge the issues behind them. People are naturally fearful of change.

Some fears are justified — some probably aren’t. But slapping the word “fear” on someone’s concerns just to discount an opinion doesn’t serve anyone well. What does help is to acknowledge the concern: Listen without interrupting, and ask questions to get to the root of the concern to discover if there are potential solutions. For instance, many people are for the idea of health care reform, but they simply can’t agree with it because of their unanswered questions about soaring future debt. Given that we’re still climbing out of an economic crisis, fiscal irresponsibility isn’t an unfounded fear, but a valid concern. Likewise, some people are fearful we won’t do anything to address the current health care woes, and they can’t bear to see things get worse. Again, that’s a valid concern deserving attention.

5. Keep in mind that this is a process. Major decisions about health care reform often seem as if they are “all-or-nothing,” when that’s probably not the case. For instance, if the bill fails, smaller bills may later be introduced to address continuing or worsening issues. If the bill passes, future legislation may be introduced to make adjustments or correct problems inherent in the legislation.

6. Continue communicating with your representatives. Given that this is a process, even if your concern is not immediately addressed or your idea immediately put to use, it may be included in a future bill or spark another worthwhile idea. Before contacting your representative, make sure you’ve at least attempted to read the bill. That’s right — don’t critique it until you’ve read it. Sure, it’s hefty, but you can skim through it online (www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3200/text) to see the sections and general provisions. Outline your questions and concerns, and prepare accompanying reasonable alternatives or suggestions. Sadly, it’s much easier to shoot down a proposal than to come up with one yourself.

7. Serve and/or donate money to a health care-related, nonprofit organization of your choice. It’s easy to get swept out by the riptide of panic and discontent. Break that hold by doing something positive for others. No matter how disconcerting things seem, it’s good medicine to see that there are plenty of hard-working people and organizations who are making a difference right now. Join them!

It’s my hope and prayer that we’ll endure these rough waters and work together to address our nation’s health care troubles.

Colette Joyce is a freelance writer. She, her husband, Chris, and their three children live in San Luis Obispo.