All conversations can be challenging, including simple, pleasant ones, because we are never sure we are interpreting another person's words exactly how they were intended. We all have "filters" through which we interpret the world based on our experiences. Even identical twins create unique filters. It's no wonder, then, that misunderstandings abound between people; one person talks apples while the other speaks oranges. The current public conversation, when it is indeed a conversation rather than a shouting match, is also an apples and oranges problem. Progressives are talking about healthcare reform while conservatives are talking about not changing anything, healthcare included. For conservatives, even ones with poor quality and/or too expensive health insurance, the familiar monster is a safer bet than the unknown. Progressives are talking apples; conservatives, oranges.
Change is scary for many people, and different people have varying levels of tolerance for change. But one truth cannot be ignored: change is constant and, as we learned from Star Trek, resistance is futile. Our natural world is always changing in addition to our human made changes of population growth and climate change. Those of us past a certain age exclaim how much a place has changed since we last visited it 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Whether we like it or not, the world changes with us or despite us.
Much of the political dialog today, apart from the self-serving ideologues in Congress, is really two different conversations, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, to reach a consensus. President Obama was elected on a platform of change, which means that the majority of Americans said, through their vote, that there was some fixing to be done. Many who opposed President Obama falsely cling to the idea that the U.S. is first in just about every measure, including healthcare. (World Health Organization ranks the U.S. 37th in the world). For personal rather than political reasons, these people vote for candidates whose message of "we're-great-just-the-way-we-are" is reassuring. The more someone is personally insecure, the more they need the external illusion of greatness. Telling these people that we must change to physically survive rocks their psychological world. Keeping the status quo becomes all important.
Unfortunately, when it comes to healthcare, the status quo is great for too few people. The problem isn't just the 47 million Americans without health insurance, but those of us who pay extraordinarily high premiums only to be subjected to the whim of our insurance companies. My family's insurance company statements are like reading fiction--there are endless reasons why a particular test or procedure was declined, or the amount the company paid was far below the actual cost. True story: just last week our insurance company said a $40 blood test should have cost $3.50, and they reimbursed us 75% of that amount. Yippee--our net worth grew by $2.62. And for this we pay $22,000 per year in health insurance premiums.
A dear friend of mine, an incredibly smart, hardworking man, took great care of his wife who was stricken with multiple sclerosis. After battling the disease for twenty-five years, she died a few years ago. Shortly thereafter, my friend declared bankruptcy because he couldn't possibly pay all the accumulated medical bills. He always had health insurance, but there were too many medical procedures and caretaking tasks that his insurance company would not cover. There he was, a clever, industrious man in his early fifties, starting over as if he hadn't worked hard for a quarter century.
So, here we are in the literal and figurative heat of August, having two different conversations. Progressives are talking apples and conservatives are talking oranges. President Obama and many Congressional Democrats want a bipartisan healthcare reform bill. I'm saying that bipartisanship is impossible; Democrats want significant change and Republicans want none.
The voters spoke in November, giving the White House and a majority of Congress to the Democrats. Change was the cry. It is time for Democrats to take their apples and run with them. The oranges will just have to catch up.