Today is an important and emotional day in the United States. A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that the federal government has the right to levy a tax on citizens who do not purchase health insurance.
Knowledge translation plays an important part in making sense of this convoluted, complicated, and far-reaching decision. When the decision was first released this morning, most news organizations immediately announced that the so-called “individual mandate,” the requirement that people buy insurance, had been struck down. Upon further review, however, that turned out to not be the case. The Supreme Court had ruled that the government could not mandate the purchase of insurance under interstate commerce laws, but that it could do so through a tax (a dirty word that the Obama administration has been trying to avoid using for months).
This resulted in backpedaling from news organizations, always desperate to be the first to report. That, in turn, created a lot of misunderstanding on the part of the American people (even Obama himself), who are already largely confused by and suspicious of the huge, unwieldy so-called “Obamacare” plan. Fully half of the American public is opposed to the plan. A misreading and misreporting of the decision today didn’t do anything to help the plan’s popularity.
As a former journalist, I understand the urgency in being the “first to report.” But if you are reporting the news incorrectly, you are doing both yourself and your viewers/readers a huge disservice. Reporters, either traditional or Internet, are usually how people get their information, and when they fail to report the news accurately, they not only fail as reporters, but as KT professionals, as well.
The news today is that the Obama administration is dropping its recommendation that Medicare pay for doctors to discuss end-of-life counseling with patients, one of the most controversial parts of “Obamacare” that really didn’t deserve all of the uproar it caused.
There are plenty of things to be concerned about with the government’s health care mandate, in my opinion. But paying doctors for discussing patients’ future plans with them really isn’t anything to get worked up about. People need to realize that no one gets out of here alive. Everyone is going to die someday. Wouldn’t a responsible person want to make their own decisions about how they are going to ride off into the sunset while they are still healthy and thinking clearly?
Instead, some politicians immediately raised the specter of “death panels,” nameless, faceless bureaucrats who would be making life-and-death decisions for seniors, regardless of their wishes. The Obama administration, in what has become its pattern, never adequately explained the recommendation. So the accusations gained a foothold, and now the administration has decided to end the whole embarrassing debacle by just giving up – having never clearly told people what the “end-of-life counseling” actually consisted of, or that the recommendation itself just enabled doctors to bill for it if they chose to discuss it with their patients.
If Obama and his supporters want to actually accomplish anything, they must do a better job of communicating to their audience – i.e. the American public, who deserve it. Today’s news that Robert Gibbs is stepping down as press secretary could not have come at a better time. Gibbs has had a turbulent relationship with the media and lacks the ability to clearly communicate his boss’s actions. He has been spectacularly unsuccessful as a press secretary. But the fault doesn’t only lie with him. There seems to be a feeling amongst Obama and his friends that they don’t need to explain themselves. They seem surprised when their actions are questioned, and can’t articulate their reasoning. “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it,” said former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Perhaps that attitude explains why she is no longer speaker.
Gosh, I love cribbing from my colleagues’ blog posts. Recently, Leah’s blog on the Kaiser Family Foundation’s YouToons cartoon about healthcare reform got me wondering about why this has been such a difficult knowledge translation project.
Setting aside “death panels,” “Obamacare,” “socialized medicine” and all the other political grenades that have been lobbed over the last year or so, the fact is that healthcare reform is now the law. It’s also a painful fact that most of the political grenades have turned into weeds with deep roots in the public consciousness.
It’s up to us as health communicators to keep pushing the reputable resources to the surface, making them easy to find for everyone. Here are five resources to get the ball rolling:
1. The afore-mentioned YouToons from Kaiser Family Foundation
2. Another offering from Kaiser, an interactive timeline that’s incredibly easy to read
3. The United States government’s own health care reform site
4. Comprehensive coverage from WebMD
5. A guide from AARP.
I’m going to repeat these in a discussion board listing, and I encourage you to go there and add to the list as you discover more resources.