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My view: Two keys for health care debate

By Kurt Manwaring

Published: Monday, Nov. 8 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

In acknowledging historic gains by Republicans in the House, President Barack Obama said Americans did not want to "spend the next two years re-fighting the political battles of the last two." Perhaps foremost among those battles has been the fight over health care reform. And if presumptive majority leader John Boehner has anything to say about it, the health care legislation passed earlier this year will "never, ever (be) implemented."

The looming battle — or rehashing thereof — over national health care is certain to make its way into corporate board rooms and government council meetings in Utah. The challenge of adequately preparing for massive changes in the health care market now becomes even more formidable as the relied-upon legislation shows signs of potential change. As strategies within Utah are mounted to cope with the ambiguity of the already uncertain, care should be taken to adhere to two principles.

First, those who disagree with a particular standpoint should be acknowledged with civility. It is easy to dismiss opponents of health care reform as mere political animals who are willing to do anything to achieve an agenda. The fact that health care reform legislation passed both the House and the Senate without a single Republican vote is evidence that party politics are at play. However, extreme partisanship is not evidence that dissenters of health care reform are not sincere in their motives. For many, health care reform represents the fundamental question of the proper role of government. In subsequent debates over how to prepare for potential changes to health care reform legislation, those involved in the process should take heed to acknowledge the sincerity of those who disagree.

Second, the evidence used for or against particular issues should be accurate. National polls continue to indicate that while passions run high when it comes to health care, ignorance does, as well. Very few seem to have an accurate grasp on the details of the health care legislation — which is not surprising considering the final bill weighed in at over 2,000 pages. However, this lack of information is not merely limited to the general public. For example, a central talking point of the Democratic party has been the claim that health care reform will produce a surplus of more than $100 billion by 2019. While such a surplus is a technical possibility, a publication by the staff of the Washington Post, "Landmark," illustrates a number of ways in which this example is misleading and identifies several scenarios in which the nation could face not a surplus by 2019, but a large deficit. Arguments can be, and have been, offered on each side. The point is that talking points are not enough when it comes to serious policy decisions. These discussions must make use of accurate evidence.

While adherence to these guidelines may seem difficult, the benefits are easy to demonstrate. We already know that tempers run high when it comes to health care reform. By acknowledging the sincere beliefs of those on each side of the issue, enemies can become friends as we seek to disagree without being disagreeable — especially as we avoid inordinately uncivil rhetoric.

Additionally, by limiting discussion regarding various issues to a focus on accurate evidence, Utah government and business leaders can develop strategies designed to address determined realities with important consequences — rather than misconstrued talking points with disastrous consequences.

To some extent, the future of health care reform is uncertain. Government and business leaders in Utah will be well-served to focus future discussions relative to these issues based upon respect for divergent viewpoints and the use of accurate evidence.

Kurt Manwaring is pursuing a graduate degree in public edministration at the University of Utah.

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