THE BLOG
08/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

From Lemons to Lemonade in 31 Days -- Health Care Reform

August has 31 days. While reported out of various Congressional committees, no such bill to reform health care will reach the floor of either chamber during these many days. As well, this is the number of days that our president and his administration and supporters have to simplify the message of why our nation needs health care reform. And with all the tumult and hand-wringing that surrounds health care reform now-a-days (who do we believe; who is not telling us the truth, and why?), 31 days is a great "cooling-off" period (to coin a term in labor negotiations) to relax all concerned and refocus the effort. Most importantly, it will be a great time to look back at why all consumers of health care services need true health care reform, and now. Let's then go back a bit.

Just why do we need to reform our health care system? In two words: affordability and accessibility. Not enough Americans can afford health care insurance, and not enough Americans can access the health care delivery system. These words are simple enough to say, but complex to implement. The complexity of it all is made even more difficult because those interests who oppose changing the current system and their political supporters have nothing better to say to uninformed citizens than statements that are false, misleading and bend the truth; yes, lie. For example, we have heard about a public option, yet opponents tell us the government is going to take over health care; that we will lose the doctors we go to see and love; and that our current health plan will go the way of the, let's see, Underwood manual typewriter. And our seniors are all abuzz that new health care reforms will mean the elimination of Medicare benefits. To all this, an informed person would say in response, poppycock! Remember, when one cannot debate a point on the merits, then the next best thing is to create fear.

There are those who say that Obama is pushing too hard; that the train called healthcare reform needs to slow down so that everyone can read any proposed legislation. Well, even though the month of August is typically reserved for vacations and relaxation, 31 days is an awfully long time, so reading any bill coming from the House or the Senate on healthcare reform can surely be squeezed into this period somehow, some way; it would probably make for good reading on the seashore while basking in the sun. So, not one of our legislators can complain about not having enough time to read what they will vote on come this Fall. And for consumers, just access any of the sites of the committees crafting the legislation. You can either read the bills themselves, or the many detailed summaries put out on them. So, President Obama, by both chambers delaying a vote on healthcare reform until the Fall, you have been given a break. Not one of your opponents can say you are pushing legislation too fast through Congress any longer.

But August this year will not be a real vacation for our president, even though he is taking the family to Martha's Vineyard. All 31 days should be taken up with telling Americans in simple terms that we can all understand just why we need health care reform. But in doing so Mr. President, tell us how it will affect us when we sit down at the kitchen table. You got off to a good start with your road trips to Raleigh, N.C. and in the Kroger store on the borders of Tennessee and Virginia on July 29. You were smart to talk about such items as pre-existing conditions not being a bar from getting insurance; that insurance companies can no longer rescind coverage once we have paid for it and undergone some sort of care and treatment; that there will no longer be any lifetime cap on benefits; extending coverage for young adults; and guaranteed insurance renewals so long as premiums are paid. And for the public option, tell us that that is only what it is: an option, just like going to Blue-Cross/Blue Shield, or an Aetna or Cigna, Kaiser-Permanente, or any other HMO or PPO-type health plan offered by an employer. You also need to assure the voter that if they have coverage, offering a public plan cannot mean that an employer will be able to drop all existing coverages in favor of just that one. Also tell us that the cost we pay for an employer-sponsored plan will be the same/better/worse if we lose the job and have to purchase coverage on an individual basis. But you have to show us more: what will reforms mean in our pocketbook? In fact, here's a suggestion for the next 31 days: why don't you instruct your staff to publish on the White House website (or ask media outlets to do this) portions or sections of the bills themselves? In this way, we have no excuse but to either read them, or forever hold out complaints about not knowing what you all on the Hill may pass that will affect us, our children and our childrens' children. And, please, don't forget the providers and our young people thinking about careers in health care. Motivate them by what will be in the legislation! Speaking of motivation, your reforms must give us incentives to stay trim and fit. We are a bunch of "fat slobs", and throwing money at programs telling us what to do is not helping out. Provide us with incentives, like tax deductions. to lose weight, reduce smoking or drinking or any other habit that is inimical to a healthy lifestyle.

The word of the day for the next 31 days is: simplicity. Your a lawyer and legal scholar: you know that trial lawyers try to keep their message before a jury as simple as possible, even in the most complex of situations. Why is this? So legal concepts can come across to lay folks in lay terms that they can readily understand based upon experience. You have 31 days to do the same thing with American citizens around the country.

Your a great orator Mr. President. But for most Americans, they will never meet you, probably have an inherent distrust of government, and that the government makes a mess in whatever it becomes involved -- at least that is what your opponents have been saying. Funny, though, how many seniors reading this blog who are Medicare eligible or using it have turned down this program? None? Some? Few? Or, what about the government-run VA system: how many of our brave men and women have tuned down the care they can receive at one of these facilities? None? Some? A few? Or, what about the government-run insurance programs for federal employees (as a postal worker, my Father was one of these during his lifetime and had great coverage that was reasonably-priced). How many have run away from this program? I suspect very few. I think the reader gets the point here. A government-sponsored option can be quite good for the consumer of health care services.

So, 31 days can well be a blessing in disguise Mr. President. In that time, tell the people over and over again, and then do it some more, that the insurance companies and the system of health care is making them go broke, if they are not already there. Match what you want to see done to their own experiences. Focus on an "enemy" and allow the people to tell you through your message how to overcome what the enemy has done to the health care system.

I'll leave you with one more point, brought to me by a noted dermatologist colleague of mine. He said, think of health care like firefighting or police personnel. We need those folks to put out fires and arrest bad folks, where ever any of this may occur - - - in high rises, single family homes, prisons, offices of right wing radicals or liberal organizations, street corners, bars, in the woods, on Wall Street, etc. But we all are willing to pay for their salaries, typically by being a taxpayer. So, too, we need health care for the same reason as we need these public safety personnel. Health care is just as vital and important as wanting structures from not burning to the ground, or making criminals pay for their crimes. Why is it that we pay for the services of these safety personnel, but continually balk at ensuring we all are provided health care that is affordable and accessible?

Mr. President, you have been given a gift. You can spend this time with ordinary Americans throughout the country with rolled-up sleeves, open collar, maybe even wearing your ("mom") blue jeans - - - all the while extolling the virtues of health care reform in terms that everyday Americans will understand and then readily appreciate. Now, go make some lemonade.