I recently had the chance to intern for health care staffs on Capitol Hill and in the Library of Congress’s Domestic Policy Division. Having spent months studying these proposed reforms, what kind of expertise do I have to show for it?
Not a lot. I may know more about it than the average student, but it didn’t really take long to realize that the more I knew, the more I knew I didn’t know. But that is the point: No one understands exactly what is going on. Thousands of people research these issues, professionally and privately, and there still is no settlement on the debate. This is not because politicians, doctors, professors, and the like are idiots. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
In the world of public policy, there can be bad, worse, good, and better solutions, but very rarely is there an obvious best solution – if you think you have the best solution, you don’t.
Not very encouraging, is it? But there is good news. Although you likely won’t understand these issues perfectly, there is still something you can do.
Start by understanding coined terms and phrases. Look at peer-reviewed journals by searching for key terms that you don’t understand – like insurance exchange, shared responsibility, single payer, comparative effectiveness, public option, Bennett-Wyden, CommCare, etc. If you aren’t aware of any term, Google it. Surrounding each of these terms are very compelling arguments that can be looked up and read in about 20 minutes. As a college student, you should be able to read and understand peer-reviewed journals. Expect yourself to be worthy to live in the era of information.
It must be mentioned that political education is not watching political pundits –pundits’ opinions are only useful after you know about issues already. After sufficient personal research, pundits have useful opinions, but unfortunately, such opinions are drenched in useless fluff.
In addition, beware of the money trail. Skepticism is merited in any high-stakes debate. Consider the many stakeholders that will benefit from contradicting possible reforms. It has been reported that there has never been more money spent on lobbying for any other single bill in the history of our country than this health care reform.
This should scare you. Imagine there is a provision, pushed by the Democrats, requiring more safety regulations on certain medications that cost drug companies billions of dollars. In this situation, who are those drug companies going to seek out to stop those initiatives? You guessed it: Republicans.
It happens equally on both sides of the aisle. Such political antagonism likely implies that in this war of words, the medical stakeholders are taking sides and arming themselves with all sorts of rhetorical artillery to persuade the public, no matter what ideological world that public happens to exist in. With this in mind, one should not be surprised to see so many tea parties, town halls, and protests advocating for every side in this debate.
So after a year of reading health bills and watching senators argue, all I have to say is be skeptical and educate yourself – these matters are complex.