Can the way of dialogue make any impact on health care reform? Consider its effect on one human mind (mine) and tell me what you think.
When the latest version of the debate heated up in earnest, I had no grasp of the issues whatever. So I started reading, listening, and thinking—and discovered some interesting insights. One article, written by the president of a regional health center, came out in favor of single-payer as a way to cover everyone and drive costs down. On The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Richard Armey (one of my least favorite politicians) talked about allowing insurers to compete across state borders, thus giving people more choice and driving costs down. I read about the Massachusetts model and what it might teach us. Because I learn by writing, I also wrote an article to ask questions about the issues.
At first, and through most of this process, I’ve leaned in the direction of single-payer. Now, after hearing other good ideas, I’m not so sure.
And that’s the point.
Preparing for authentic dialogue means absorbing ideas and perspectives from many parts of the ideological spectrum, even—especially—those that drive us crazy. It’s critical to hear from conservative and liberal, doctors and hospitals, government officials and poor people, those who have been denied coverage and the insurers that denied them.
This is hard work. It asks us to set aside our vested interests and emotional stakes. For instance, I resent the health insurance industry because a family member was denied coverage for desperately needed treatment. But to sort out issues as complex as this, I have to set that resentment aside…and listen.
How do we get to the point where we can do this? By cultivating certain attitudes of heart, especially openness to others—and the willingness to take on the risk that such openness involves. When we absorb other perspectives and listen to other people, we might find out we’re wrong. In my case, I might learn that health insurers include good people with honorable intentions. If I do, I’ll have to let go of my resentment permanently.
Which, by the way, will bring more peace to my soul and more generosity to my spirit.
If we do this hard work—if we approach the health care debate with an open heart and an inquiring spirit—we give ourselves the chance for good ideas to emerge. Good ideas sometimes lead to good policies. By contrast, the current climate of shouting and misinformation actually distracts our attention from listening, weighing alternatives, striving for consensus, and letting good solutions emerge.
We have nothing to lose by applying the way of dialogue to health care. And we have much to gain—maybe even a workable, compassionate policy, worthy of the name reform.