Health Reform and Humility

January 14, 2011
1:28 pm

Next Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act that the 111th Congress passed just last year.  Presuming that the U.S. Senate will not follow the House’s lead, next week’s vote begins what could be a very difficult and contentious process to determine the future of health reform.

As lawmakers, as well as those of us who advocate various policies and points of view, start down this road, we would all do well to take David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times to heart.

Brooks writes, as so many have in recent days, on the need for greater civility in our political discourse, but he takes it a step further and says that civility won’t come unless we each begin to recognize our own fallibility and that we achieve more through collaboration and cooperation than by going it alone.

He writes, “…even if you are at your best, your efforts will still be laced with failure. The truth is fragmentary and it’s impossible to capture all of it. There are competing goods that can never be fully reconciled. The world is more complicated than any human intelligence can comprehend.

“But every sensible person in public life also feels redeemed by others. You may write a mediocre column or make a mediocre speech or propose a mediocre piece of legislation, but others argue with you, correct you and introduce elements you never thought of. Each of these efforts may also be flawed, but together, if the system is working well, they move things gradually forward.”

It’s unfortunate that the health reform process from the beginning turned into a rhetorical battle of absolutes.  To this day, among politicians and pundits alike, either you’re for the Affordable Care Act or you’re against it.  The debate has always been framed in terms of all-or-nothing stakes.  Yet, who can reasonably argue that a measure this complex wouldn’t have both flaws that need correcting and positives worth preserving?

When Congress finishes its action on repeal legislation, it would be a positive step to see a broad acknowledgement that health reform can be made better if it incorporates the best ideas from both parties, that we need to expand coverage, achieve greater affordability and promote a vibrant role for private sector innovation.

A Rasmussen survey released today shows that only 18 percent of the American public wants to see the health reform law left in place as it is.  Yet, surveys also show that voters don’t want to see reform scrapped completely.  It’s not healthy to have the public so bitterly divided on an issue of such vast importance.  I’m no pollster, but I suspect there would be widespread public approval if all sides decided to, as Brooks wrote, acknowledge their fallibility and work together to craft genuinely bipartisan, effective solutions for our nation’s healthcare system.

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