The medium is the message…

Overexposure to policy-speak can make one’s eyes glaze over and one’s thoughts wander far, far off. (Think Aruba.) Surely by the time Washington settles on a health-care fix, much of the public will have absorbed more than it ever imagined of geeky chatter on cost-shifting, co-ops, capitation and more.

We hope, however, that the continued drumbeat of cable TV’s wonky discourse, or the tsunami of health care blogs multiplying like guppies in a fish tank won’t inundate people with so much policy detail as to turn them off.

It’s really very important that Americans remain open to learning and reading and talking and hearing about even the finer points of health care reform. After all, health care is an essential humanitarian service that’s projected to cost families in the neighborhood of $30,000-a-year in a mere 10 years. Sustainable? No way.

And, we’re pretty sure that whatever compromise deal is hatched by Washington probably won’t be – how shall we put this? — the “perfect” that is the enemy of the good.

So we’ve got to stay interested, engaged and involved – because this health care delivery system is as broken as the levies of the Ninth Ward at the height of Katrina. Regardless of what comes out of Washington, the American people themselves will still need to press on for improvements. We will still need to care.

Luckily, some media outlets are going out of their way to help us care by framing and presenting the topic in a refreshing, inventive way that encourages the public to stay with the debate. (And we’re not talking about the lazy-bones media who report the story in the context of Dems-vs.-Reps, conservatives-vs.-liberals, he-said-vs-she-said, as if that framing had anything to do with truly illuminating the debate.)

The good news starts with a two-part, two-hour series aired on “This American Life,” the public radio program hosted by Ira Glass. Glass and the show’s producers decided to employ NPR’s crack team of financial reporters, Planet Money, to explain the complex web of factors that got us where we are today with our health care delivery system. If you’ve ever heard their unorthodox hour-long take on derivatives and the mortgage meltdown, you’ll know what a Planet Money treatment delivers – hear the podcasts for yourself: “More is Less” and “Someone Else’s Money.” They’re fun, spunky and – most important – highly accessible and informative.

As for encouraging online conversations on health care reform, the New York Times deserves notice for its interactive graphic that simulates a salon-like discussion among readers. A graphic of Mondrian-like boxes fit together like puzzle pieces on the computer screen – some of them large, some medium, some small.

The intriguing feature is that the boxes change size — along with the number of tiny simulated people standing around chatting inside them — according to the volume of reader comments submitted on various aspects of the health care debate.

The interactive graphic features 21 boxes for 21 health-care-reform related topics: the newly released House health care bill, the public option, a single-payer system, drug costs, exchanges and co-ops, the Massachusetts model, medical malpractice and tort reform, competition among insurers, illegal immigrants, Medicare and the elderly, health care abroad, women and health care, the generation gap, moral and spiritual considerations, nursing home and end-of-life care, taxes and the national deficit, insurance and affordability, employers and insurance, abortion, and lifestyle and preventative care.

Today, as House bill was released, that box (along with the public option box) were the largest and had the biggest gathering of simulated chatterers.

With the 21 choices, there’s something for everyone. The topics serve as prompts to readers, beckoning them to the conversation on health care reform. (We recommend scanning the “health care abroad” topic box — it’s fascinating to learn of other people’s experiences seeking medical care outside of the U.S. and their comparisons with our homegrown system.)

If more media outlets make efforts to stretch their boundaries of imagination, creativity and resources as did “This American Life” and the New York Times – more members of the public will stay engaged in the debate.

The result, in the final analysis, could be better outcomes for overhaul. A well-informed public coaxed into staying with the debate over the long haul will keep our elected leaders responsive and focused on the end goal: affordable, accessible, quality health care for all.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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