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So… what exactly is going on with Obamacare?

By Azeem Mallick | Friday, March 29, 2013

Before I begin, let me preface this post by saying this is not a politically charged piece, nor is it a celebration or indictment of health care reform. I had the great pleasure of traveling to Victoria, British Columbia, in Canada, and Seattle, Washington, a couple of weeks ago with IHI’s wonderful reducing readmissions team. As you can imagine, flying from Boston’s Logan Airport to Victoria International Airport is not exactly an easy, direct flight, so there was a lot of time spent in terminals. As is usually the case when you are traveling alone and passing time in an airport restaurant, you tend to find someone nearby to chat with about where you are going and why you are traveling. For me, the conversation was always the same. “Oh, you work in health care? So, what exactly is going on with Obamacare?”


I began feeling like I was on Meet the Press with all of the questions and specifics I was being asked, as if I had a hand in writing the legislation. I thought this was very interesting. There seem to be many strong opinions about The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or what has come to be known as “Obamacare.” No matter which side of the argument people fall on, they almost always seem to have a strong stance on why their side is correct. Yet, without fail, they also seem to have more questions or are incorrectly stating what they deem as factual. This had me asking: how can this continue to be such a polarizing issue, when a vast majority of the general public does not even know what is behind it?


A lot of my discussions in British Columbia had me admitting that, sadly, much of the conversation surrounding America’s health care reform is politically motivated. There are many good people and organizations out there trying to spread the word and help people understand exactly what the changes mean, but many continue only to listen to the side of the aisle that reaffirms their beliefs.


The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation released a brief 10 question quiz earlier this year that allows people to test their knowledge about the reform. What I liked most about this quiz is that they phrased the questions in language you would hear on the news. There was no medical or legal jargon; it was straightforward and sounded like terms and facts you hear in everyday conversations. Another resource people should be familiar with is the Healthcare.gov “Information for You” page. These resources allow people to familiarize themselves with exactly how reform will affect them.


Our society has done a great job discussing all the arguments and infighting that went into creating and passing this law, but little focus has been put on conveying how every American will be affected by it. It is important for all of us to use resources such as the ones mentioned above, and to speak to our care providers about what, if anything, will change for us. The most important takeaway in this debate is not which side of the argument you fall on, but being knowledgeable enough about the issue to take that stance. One thing I admired most about all the encounters I had was that people were willing to ask questions and then open to learning more. This is something we should all be doing.


So maybe next time you are gathering with friends or you’re out somewhere, and you hear someone ask, “So, what exactly is going on with Obamacare?” you’ll be able to help spread much needed knowledge.

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