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Our brains hurt

Complex issue of reform doesn't lend itself to bumper stickers

The American public seems to be getting more and more anxious as proponents and opponents of proposed health reform engage in a seemingly unending mud fight.

Is it because – as critics charge – the public option puts America on a slippery slope toward socialism? Is it because – as Democrats fear – the outcome of the health care debate could determine President Obama’s political clout going forward? Is it the viciousness of the debate?

Or is it simply that our brains hurt?

Why would our brains hurt? Because Americans are feeling intense pressure to understand – and then to support or oppose – the hugely complex idea of health care reform. Naturally, we all want some clear-cut rationale that allows us to confidently choose whether to embrace or reject change this significant. But here’s the thing: the health care reform equation has no easy or short answers.

Most Americans find it difficult enough to understand co-pays, deductibles and open enrollment. But understanding the mechanics of buying insurance is a breeze compared to grasping a whole host of thorny issues in close proximity to the health reform debate.

Pick your issue … and health reform touches it:

Military – If we can provide a top-notch health plan for our military, can we do the same for the general population? And many would ask Should we? Do “average” Americans deserve less than the military?

Government interference – Would a public option kill the private insurance market? but also, Is it important to preserve a private market? Should the good of every American outweigh corporate America’s right to profit?

Taxes – Should the wealthy have to carry the weight of financing health reform so everyone can have coverage? Does / should everyone have a right to coverage? but also Can we FORCE everyone to have coverage?

Immigration – Can we / should we / how would we deny coverage to illegal aliens?

Life-and-death decisions – How far does legislation reach into our personal lives? Does the new system let doctors decide when we stop providing care? Does it give families autonomy in making life-ending or life-saving decisions?

Economic – How can we push for costly reform that could increase our already huge deficit? OR conversely, how can we NOT reform the system when costs are spiraling out of control?

And the list of thorny issues goes on and on.

Next Wednesday, the President will talk to Congress and the American people again. When he reframes his health reform argument, he may attempt to answer critics who want to know exactly how each provision of reform will affect each citizen’s pocketbook. And he’ll probably spend some time ticking off a list of misrepresentations by his critics.

We believe that some of both would be helpful. But whatever approach he takes, the President should keep in mind one thing: that he’ll be facing a confused and issue-fatigued audience – that is, if their brains don’t hurt too much to tune in.