The day is finally here. After months and months of buildup and anticipation the day has finally come. No, I’m not talking about Major League Baseball’s Opening Day (although that’s a big deal, just like MLB’s Civil Rights Game on May 30th in Houston is too!) No, today is the is the day after the end of the first open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, our country’s new health law.
Otherwise known as Obamacare, the ACA seeks to correct some of the fatal flaws that have plagued this country’s health insurance system for years. Gone are the days of being denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. No more are insurance plans that neglect to offer preventative care. Cured is the system that allowed health insurance companies to increase consumer rates at any time for little or no reason.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks that any of what is mentioned above is a bad thing, no matter the political stance. Getting sick doesn’t know a political party – or at least it shouldn’t.
Obamacare is by far today’s most politically divisive issue. Millions of dollars have been poured into campaigns both for and against the law over the past year, and it’s only going to get worse as mid-term elections draw near. Republicans will talk about the disastrous rollout, the "lackluster" number of people who have paid their premiums, and how the ACA is another example of government overreach. Democrats will champion its coverage of people previously uncovered, its overall accessibility, and its ability to clean up an industry that desperately needed it. And while these arguments are all politically viable, the conversation shouldn’t be about politics – it should be about people.
Having spent quite a bit of time working on the issue over the past few months, I’ve learned just how personal it can be. Each person that I had the opportunity to encounter had his or her own personal story as to why this was important. Maybe it was because they were recently laid off and needed coverage in the interim between jobs. Or maybe it was that their son was previously denied coverage because he was diagnosed with clinical depression years ago. Or maybe it was that they could finally enroll in a plan because they could finally afford it. Notice how there were no politics involved? Weird, I know.
Unfortunately, these stories aren’t the ones being told.
Due in part to the 24-hour news cycle and the media always looking to cover the biggest controversy of the day to help boost ratings, these personal stories are often the ones pushed under the rug. Sure, supporters of the law will prop these stories up, but they will likely go no further than the kitchen table. That said, the true blame doesn’t lie with the media; it lies on us. We spend so much time arguing the politics of an issue that we oftentimes forget what the issue is or why we were arguing in the first place. We sometimes argue all the minutia of an issue until the bigger picture becomes lost on us. And in that lies the true problem.
The issue of health care in this country should be an easy one. We are the most advanced country in the world but yet we still have people who can’t afford, or will go broke trying to afford, the skyrocketing costs of health care. Forgetting all of the politics around the issue, this truth is one that none of us should accept. The law isn’t perfect - that website really needs some work, some people will not see plans as affordable, and others will prefer the old way of doing things. Those are all valid stances, but that shouldn’t keep us from realizing the positive impact it’s having on the people around us.
We will likely be having the same conversation about the same issues for many years to come. But it is up to us to face these issues together. Don’t like the law? Well, let’s find a way to fix it! The beauty of this country and its Democracy is in its ability to encourage constructive discourse. Our views may be wildly different, but the conversation should lead to progress. It’s when this discourse turns into distain that the point of it all gets lost on us.
And that’s the true tragedy, because this isn’t about you or I. It’s about "we" and the greater good.
Dallas S. Jones is President/CEO of Elite Change, Inc. a public affairs and political consulting firm with offices in Houston, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Washington, DC. Dallas is also a commentator and noted speaker. He resides in the 3rd Ward community with his wife Angela Lopez Jones and baby daughter Zoë Victoria Jones.