As the Supreme Court gathers to hear the first of three days of arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as: PPACA; ACA; Obamacare; and, a variety of other pejorative names), journalists, health policy experts, elected officials, and motivated activists are eagerly gathering outside the Court. Some are interested in the policy while others are there to contribute to the spectacle surrounding one of the most highly contested issues of our time. The ruling, which is expected in mid-summer, will jolt the presidential campaigns and, without a doubt, fire up activists across the political spectrum. Finding clarity on whether the law as written is good or bad policy will take years (we all have our opinions), but the complexities of the law and the passions it inspires are apparent to any casual observer.
But why does it inspire such passions?
Because health care is different. With total health care expenditures in excess of $2.5 trillion representing nearly 18 percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product, health care touches every person, company and level of government. Individuals and families confront health care issues on a daily basis as they struggle with premiums and out of pocket costs, address illness, or seek to help an older loved one. Companies see health insurance costs rise for current workers and retirees as a disjointed delivery system contributes to greater “presenteeism” among workers seeking to coordinate care for themselves and sick family members.
The health care struggle
Government at all levels continues to struggle with maintaining critical services, controlling health care costs, funding employee benefits, containing state Medicaid budgets or addressing Medicare. Increasingly health care costs are the nexus between individual financial security, corporate competitiveness and long term, government solvency. And, in many cases, access to care is the difference between life and death. That is why health care is different.
Yet, as these challenges compel action on health care reform, we cannot ignore that innovations in health care driven by medical and information technology as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology advances offer current treatments and the potential for future advances that once seemed unthinkable. While expensive, for people struggling with a chronic disease, a rare illness, or a degenerative health condition, technology and medical advancements offer hope for a better life. Some see health reform as a threat to progress and hope while others see it a guarantor of them.
It may seem simplistic to say health care is different, but the list of issues that are of vital concern to individuals, families, corporations of all sizes, as well as local, state, and federal governments are very limited. Whether you watch this week’s spectacle at the Supreme Court as a patient, an employer, or just a professional communicator looking to steal a few ideas on how to get a message to break through, remember it is truly one of the great issues of our time. Very few others can match it for size, cost, complexity and the acutely personal effects it has on our daily lives.