The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog

Health Care Reform From One Person's Perspective

Health Care Reform: The Power of Stories

Posted by Alan on May 20, 2009

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.


7 Responses to “Health Care Reform: The Power of Stories”

  1. jennifer said

    Love your Blog! I would just like to put my 2 cents in about the healthcare situation. We have 4 kids, my husband works in the transportation field so he is away from home alot and for the longest time we depended on traditional health insurance which ended up putting us in a really bad situation. We were paying over $300/month then had about $20,000 worth of coinsurance and deductibles to meet each year before the insurance company would pay even 80%. That was when I got introduced to Consumer Driven Healthcare. This put us back in control and made it so we were not paying nearly so much out of pocket. No matter what President Obama puts into play this is the way my family is going. We are stress free and have more money in our pocket. Just my 2 cents on the issue.

  2. //For every anecdote of failure in the health care industry there are dozens where folks made good decisions, planned ahead, used a broker to purchase insurance, and ultimately benefited from the current system.//

    There’s no statistic to back that up. One could as easily assert that for every anecdote of a “good broker”, there are dozens where the insured were *not* benefited.

    But, to be honest, I couldn’t give a damn about brokers. All industries come and go. We shouldn’t be fussing over their intentions or jobs. Brokers can get new jobs. Period. But people can’t find new lives if they die for lack of health care. The point is to provide *health care*.

    I continue looking for a site or blog that tells what each of the congressmen stands for, who is lobbying them, who has been bought, who hasn’t been bought, and who I need to write.

    • Mark said

      The Poet upinvermont offered no solutions! Listening to the chatter and reading what is supposedly being discussed it is how to insure everyone and charge less to do it. It is easy to charge less….do less.

      • //The Poet upinvermont offered no solutions!//

        That wasn’t the point of my post. But since you bring it up. One solution is to offer a public option. The Post Office is a public option, for example. A public option would force “for profit” insurance companies to *actually* follow through on their cost cutting proposals. If you don’t like the government run option, then go back to private insurers. Maybe the Republicans are right, government can’t run anything…. But then why are Republicans so opposed to it??? Why are insurance companies so opposed to it??? Their actions belie their rhetoric.

        • Alan said

          First, thanks for your comments Upinvermont. Second, your comment about the public plan standing or falling on its own merits are true, but they assume a level playing field. My fear is that when the umpire picks up a bat, he rarely gets called out on strikes. If the public plan played by the same rules as the private plan, it would just be another competitor. If it gets unfair advantages it’s not a fair test. That’s what happened in California. When we passed small group reform the state created a plan to compete with private carriers. Long story short, that plan is now out of business. It couldn’t compete.

          While there’s no legislation yet, it doesn’t appear that Congress is headed toward a level playing field. For example, what’s being discussed is giving individuals earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level (over $80,000/year) tax credits to pay for their health insurance premiums. Those credits could only be used, however, for coverage purchased through the government’s health insurance Exchange. That’s hardly a level playing field.

          Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on health care reform here. I greatly appreciate it.

        • //but they assume a level playing field. //

          I’m not unsympathetic, but this concern assumes that our job is to protect the bottom line of the insurance companies. It’s hypocritical of the industry. They themselves don’t provide an *even playing field* for consumers. People need government assistance because they *can’t afford* private insurance. Maybe they need it because they have pre-existing conditions. Until private insurance companies can offer *affordable* insurance for *everyone*, then we don’t *currently* have an even playing for consumers.

          So… why should *any* of us care about the poor insurance industry?

          The people need *health care*. We already have profitable insurance companies, at the *expense* of affordable health care or equitable coverage. As it is, people stand in line for health care. They can’t choose which doctors they want or even which procedures they want. It’s untenable.

  3. Hopefully, the broker’s stories will be told as well. For every anecdote of failure in the health care industry there are dozens where folks made good decisions, planned ahead, used a broker to purchase insurance, and ultimately benefited from the current system.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: