CJR: Educate ordinary folks about reform debate

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Trudy Lieberman, president of AHCJ’s board of directors, urged journalists to help educate the public about the health care reform debate, particularly concerning the differences between public and private plans. She finds fault with coverage that only focuses on the Capitol Hill debate over options and says many individuals currently lack the basic knowledge necessary to understand the partisan fracas in context.

So far, mostly experts, stakeholders, and members of Congress have engaged in the debate, and the media has been noting their pronouncements, passing them along to their audiences. Clearly there’s a big disconnect. Reconnection is needed soon, before the ads and commercials begin peddling their persuasive and subtle messages. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the public can easily be swayed on the details of reform, and special interests have plenty of leeway to shape the direction of the debate.

Lieberman passed on tips that Reed Abelson of The New York Times and Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times shared during AHCJ’s recent Talking Health webcast about how to better cover the issue.

  • Explain what is meant by a public plan — who can join; what do they get; what it costs; who’s left out; who sponsors it; what regulations apply.
  • What’s the practical implication of a plan — can enough people use it to provide a real choice, as advocates claim? …
  • Show how it will affect different groups of people.
  • Move beyond the ideology. There’s a lot more to talk about than insurers demagoguing “socialized medicine” and advocates hoping for single-payer through the back door.

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