It's a sacrifice, but someone has to do it. And obviously, it's not going to be Sarah Palin.
I start my day with a cup of tea, or three, a bowl of shredded wheat, strawberries and soymilk. This takes time, so I sit at my desk and I read what people who really understand health care reform have to say. They're journalists, economists, and writers who've studied the issue for years, and understand the intricacies of health care policy and the current proposals for reform much better than I do, even though I paid attention in my Economics classes.
Health care reform is a complicated subject. But it's not so difficult that a person with a reasonable grasp of English and a working knowledge of our political system couldn't understand it, especially when it's explained by good writers who refrain from using jargon. And I'm not talking about whoever wrote that email you got the other day, with bold fonts and lots of exclamation points.
For instance, today I read a thoughtful post by Jonathan Cohn, who writes for The New Republic and has been called "one of America's leading experts on health care policy". In it, he explained why the health care reform bill won't put us on the path to rationing health care. On the TNR blog The Treatment, Sharon Eliza Nichols recently wrote about how small businesses may benefit from health care reform, quoting an expert from Georgetown's Health Policy Institute.
See why The Treatment is one of my first stops during my morning tea break?
But for prolific policy debates, you really can't beat Ezra Klein at the Washington Post. I've been following Ezra for a long time—he's a real wunderkind, a twenty-something writer who's passionate as well as informed. (And he's also into food writing.) Not only does he have health care policy down cold, he's also a great interviewer. I particularly liked his interviews this week with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R. GA). Turns out Isakson was the one who thought up the end-of-life planning language that was inserted into one of the Senate bills, and eventually turned into the "death panel" nonsense.
If you read nothing else but Ezra Klein's columns, you'll be very well informed on the health care reform debate. In fact, on days when I'm limited to one cup of tea, I make sure Ezra's the one I'm reading while I'm sipping.
Another journalist who's made health care policy her schtick is Karen Tumulty, from Time Magazine. Recently she scored a big get, as they say. She interviewed the President of the United States about what he'd like to see in the health care reform bill. But this wasn't my favorite column by Karen. Her column about her brother, who was denied treatment when his kidneys failed, was not only poignant but also a disturbing primer on how individual insurance (the insurance you buy if you're not covered through your employer) fails so many people.
These aren't the only columnists I read; often they point to other articles and charts and debates that are informative, such as the article by Atul Gawande on how one town in Texas manages to charge so much for health care, far outspending other towns in similar circumstances. Yesterday Ezra Klein linked to the NY Times' round table debate (Six experts! All on one page!) on the public plan, which may or may not be included in a final health care bill. And this short article by Uwe Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton, gives me lots to digest, along with my shredded wheat.
It's because of these writers that I've learned a few basic facts about the American health care system, facts I didn't know before because, frankly, I haven't used it for a while. (It's not just that green tea keeps you healthy; I live in Europe and also am eligible for America's own socialized health care system, the military.)
One startling fact is that more than 26,000 Americans die every year because they lack access to medical care. Another is that a million families declare bankruptcy each year due to medical costs—62% of all bankruptcies. I've learned America spends 16% of GDP on health care, about twice as much as any other country, and if we do nothing, those costs will rise to 37% by 2050.
I've also learned the difference between universal health care (which everyone, regardless of ideology, should be in favor of), single payer health care (which is what Medicare is and what Canada has) and socialized medicine (which is what we have in Britain and essentially how the US military runs its medical care). And although Americans over the age of 65 report very high satisfaction with Medicare, those under 65 don't like it, even though they've never experienced it.
I could go on, but I've finished my third cup of tea. The point is, there's a lot of information out there. Not everyone who writes or emails or blogs about health care policy knows what they're talking about. Neither did I, until I started reading columns by people who've made it their life's work to understand it. I realize not everyone can keep up with the debate to this degree—three cups of tea takes a while to drink, time when I could be attending to my Facebook page, or whipping up a new dish in the kitchen, or researching a book I want to write.
But this is an issue that has a lot of Americans really angry, really frustrated, and really confused. I don't like being angry, frustrated, or confused. So I do something about it.