ON THE AGENDA | NOVEMBER 9TH, 2017 | ANTONIO DIEP

Practical Agreements in Health Care

The Hidden Common Ground Among Partisan Solutions to Health Care Concerns

It seems nowadays Americans can’t turn on the TV, go online or scroll through their social media sites without finding the same narrative: a dystopian portrait of a hopelessly-divided America. The media, pundits and other purveyors of daily happenings underscore the toxic political discourse and gridlock on Capitol Hill as indicators of how polarized we have become in this country. In fact, an October 2017 Pew Research Center poll shows Americans are becoming increasingly partisan on a number of issues.

The trends have naturally compelled experts to set out on a quest to identify the sources from which such divisions derive – citing economic, cultural, ideological, psychological and a myriad of other reasons. While the country appears to be growing ever more divided, we have set out on a new Hidden Common Ground initiative to look for common ground that exists among partisan lines.

Health care is one such issue that has become one of the most entrenched in our nation’s bitterly hostile discourse and one of two issues we are exploring in our inaugural project of this new initiative. Because health care is an important issue to the American public, leaders have naturally come to understand that it is an agenda item they cannot ignore lest the likelihood of a voter backlash. Yet political gridlock, private interests, disagreements and the diverse needs among the public have impeded our nation’s representatives from making any meaningful strides to improve the health care system. However, health care does not occur in a vacuum; there are many, complex parts that make up the whole.

Americans are generally concerned about high medical costs, access to health insurance and the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The proposed solutions we see to address such concerns typically predicate from ideological views on the subject. But we are learning in our conversations with everyday Americans from our nation’s urban, suburban and rural communities that while there may be acute disagreements on broader issues, therein lie specific areas with less intense disagreement than we typically hear and read about. For instance, we are seeing in our research that when it comes to solutions for improving health care, pragmatism can supersede ideology on certain areas.

When it comes to the ACA, the public may be divided on the law as a whole, but certain provisions were popular among respondents and in turn would be practical to keep.

“One of the things about Obamacare I like [is] the 26 extension for children,” said a focus group participant. “I was very concerned about what was going to happen to my kids. [The extension] gave me some comfort. There seems to be more widespread coverage. I think that’s a good thing.”

Solutions like the Medicare for All bill and increasing competition were also viewed in practical terms rather than ideological. While the former initiative was appealing to respondents, questions remained on whether the government could implement and administer such a robust program. The latter, while also a welcomed solution, raised concerns on whether it would lead to unregulated profits by private insurance and big pharmaceutical companies.

As we continue this work, we intend to learn whether the political noise and data-driven narratives match the conversations we have with regular Americans. It is with our findings, based on real concerns and priorities, that we can reveal areas of accommodation in health care with which leaders can craft real solutions.

There are of course agenda items on which we have disagreements, but by recognizing that some issues have areas of common ground, it will help us come together to take on even some of the most divisive issues.

The inaugural Hidden Common Ground research project will be released in early-2018. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to be one of the first to hear about it and continue to check back at publicagenda.org for more blogs and information on this exciting initiative.


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