Facts are facts. Logic is logic. When it comes to health care reform, both are critical, vital elements of informed decision making. At the end of the day, however, facts are only facts and logic is only logic. What moves people are emotions and empathy. And what elicits emotions and empathy are stories. Stories are what enables people to connect data and logic with real, meaningful situations and they are what drives people to take action.
Chip and Dan Heath make this point in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. They point out that “stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and to inspire.” By simulate they mean to describe reality and, consequently, convey knowledge.
Politicians understand this. So do successful sales people. A white paper is a great way to set forth a policy. A brochure may be just the ticket for describing an item. But it’s the stories that politicians and sales people use that connects those facts to people in a way the moves them to act. President Ronald Reagan was a master of this. His reputation as the Great Communicator rests in large part on his ability to shape stories that inspired and moved his audiences. President Barack Obama shares this gift.
So it’s not surprising that President Obama is soliciting stories to post on his Organizing for Health Care site (which is a part of his grass roots organization, Organizing for America). It’s part of his effort to build grass roots support for his health care reform initiative. The email went to supporters of his campaign and others who have signed up at Organizing for America. It reads, in part: “As we know, challenging the status quo will not be easy. Its defenders will claim our goals are too big, that we should once again settle for half measures and empty talk. Left unanswered, these voices of doubt might yet again derail the comprehensive reform we so badly need. That’s where you come in.” It then asks his supporters to share “your personal story about the importance of health care reform in your life, and the lives of those you love.”
President Obama promises to personally read some of the stories submitted and he clearly intends to make use of them in the coming fight over health care reform. As he notes, “I know personal stories can drive that change, because I know how my mother’s experience continues to drive me. She passed away from ovarian cancer a little over a decade ago. And in the last weeks of her life, when she was coming to grips with her own mortality and showing extraordinary courage just to get through each day, she was spending too much time worrying about whether her health insurance would cover her bills. She deserved better. Every American deserves better. And that’s why I will not rest until the dream of health care reform is finally achieved in the United States of America.”
Facts and logic will play a major role in health care reform. But what ultimately will carry the day are stories like those of the President and his mother. Which is why others are also gathering stories.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the value professional, independent brokers add to the health care system is too often overlooked. The National Association of Health Underwriters, the nation’s largest organization of health insurance brokers and related professionals, is working hard to change that. In addition to attending endless meetings and submitting volumes of testimony and comments to Congress, NAHU is very appropriately gathering stories.
NAHU has created a web site, Brokers Making a Difference, to house the stories it has gathered. And more are coming in from NAHU members and the clients they serve. They tell stories of brokers going the extra mile for their clients when they needed help the most, after a serious illness or accident. They tell of brokers doing the straightforward work of being a counselor and advocate, helping their clients to find affordable health care coverage that meets their unique situation. They tell of brokers going beyond the call of duty and of those fulfilling their responsibilities as professionals.
For brokers these stories are critical. It’s one thing to talk about helping individuals or businesses through the health insurance maze. It’s another, altogether more powerful thing, to describe what that means in action. Stories of coming to the hospital to help a new mother whose baby was undergoing surgery to provide comfort, support, and, as important, assistance in dealing with the paper work have an impact. Stories of bringing together hospital and carrier administrators to get their clients out of the waiting room and into surgery have impact.
Brokers play a critical role in helping people maneuver through the health care system in this country. Health care reform is likely to become a reality this year. The stories President Obama is gathering will help see to that. It is the stories being collected by NAHU that will help assure brokers are able to continue to help their clients in whatever changed system emerges.