MedCity Influencers

Don’t let the talk shows fool you: Red and blue staters alike are ready for real health-care reform

Bill Hayes of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says that while conventional wisdom may assume deep divisions between red and blue states it turns out that, “given opportunities for honest dialogue, Americans agree far more than they disagree when it comes to health care reform.”

Bill Hayes is the president of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio

Since August, tensions surrounding health care reform have exploded as legislators and the president continue to rally public support. It seems some are unwilling to accept broad reform, but new research shows that Americans may be more ready for reform than is commonly thought. What is needed is a chance to work through the tough choices involved in health care reform. Once they do, Americans will be open to significant change and will be willing to make the compromises necessary to create a health system that works for everyone.

Ohio residents cite three sticking points around reforming health care:

  1. Uncertainty about the government’s role in health care.
  2. Concerns about the potential loss of or limits to good insurance coverage.
  3. The cost of a good health care system.

Unless the public is able to come to terms with these sticking points, significant reform is unlikely to pass, let alone be sustainable. Recently, two area organizations, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio and UHCAN Ohio, took part in groundbreaking research (pdf) to understand how Americans think about these complicated and emotional issues and how decision processes move from initial opinion to considered judgment.

This multi-state project, sponsored by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and conducted in conjunction with Daniel Yankelovich’s nationally known research firm Viewpoint Learning, showed that people can work through these sticking points.

In Columbus, Cincinnati and Akron, researchers sat down with randomly selected representative groups of Ohioans and asked them to consider various scenarios for the future of the U.S. health care system.  Over the course of a daylong meeting, people from widely different walks of life were able to work through the major obstacles and define health care reforms that made sense to them.

We saw Ohioans arrive at significant common ground. In particular, they all agreed that we are already paying dearly for a broken and unsustainable system, that health care should focus on prevention and wellness, that we must make more effective use of limited resources, and that the Government will need to play a stronger role.

Ohioans’ conclusions about health care reform were consistent with those reached in Kansas and Mississippi, the two other states in this project.  Ohioans had a few concerns that stood out compared to other states – they tended to define “basic” care more broadly, and they were especially concerned that the health system not have inequities based on ability to pay.  But these were differences in emphasis, not substance.

Conventional wisdom may assume deep divisions between red and blue states, urban and rural areas, liberals and conservatives, insured and uninsured, but it turns out that, given opportunities for honest dialogue, Americans agree far more than they disagree when it comes to health care reform.

As you can see in the research, most Ohioans are ready and willing to accept difficult tradeoffs. And, once they work through the issues, most Ohioans are willing to support substantial changes. But they need Ohio’s leaders to help them move along the learning curve – building on the extensive common ground that already exists.  If Ohio’s leaders can do that, our state – and all of America – will benefit.

I urge you to participate in the many discussions taking place regarding health care reform. If you would like to host a discussion on this issue, you can access trained facilitators at UHCAN Ohio and Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage.

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