Getting the story right
In September 2009, a 6 year old named Thomas in Colorado was fighting a costly battle with severe hemophilia, a genetic blood clotting disorder. The family reached the $1 million cap under their state insurance plan within the first 18 months of treatment. Thomas’s life depended on medication and regular care, but the family worried about losing their health insurance every other year. In March 2012, that worry ended thanks to Obamacare. It scrapped lifetime limits in insurance coverage and banned discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Thomas finally received affordable lifetime care thanks to Obamacare, the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law on March 23, 2010, after hard battle with Congress.
Erick Moberg was an aspiring medical student. His mother had quadruple bypass surgery. But as a senior at Michigan State University, he wasn’t sure if he should pursue his dream in medicine because of the cost of his education and health insurance. Then he received a call saying he wouldn’t be forced off his parents’ health insurance plan until he turns 26. The phone call was from President Obama, marking the first anniversary of a law that was already making difference in the lives of millions of Americans like Moberg. The president wished him well on his path to become a doctor.
The two examples are cited on the White House blog pitching the benefits and effects of the signature health care law that has been derided by opposition Republicans. The videos are interviews with real people. The United States had been alone among rich societies with no public health insurance policy. Millions of Americans who were not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid and could not afford expensive private policies lived dangerously uninsured and unprotected. The campaign for a universal national health care system had been tantamount to a revolution. President Theodore Roosevelt’s attempt in 1912 was opposed by physicians, businesses, insurance companies and conservative legislators. Extreme conservative groups called Obama’s health care program that mandated that every American buy health insurance or pay a penalty “a leap toward socialism” or a “government takeover.” Tea Party activists rallied hard to derail the program and attacked the president for being a socialist.
Yet the law passed. How did Obama pull off health reform after all his predecessors failed? It was thanks to his character, unwavering passion and resolve. He sold all this by talking endlessly with everyone, including supporters, opponents and members of Congress. In the end, he turned a messy political battle into a compelling story. Policy needs to be told in story form. No policy can work unless it interests, persuades and inspires the people. A policy decided unilaterally by the president and bureaucrats and notified to the people cannot draw support and understanding.
The American example was dug up because it stands in stark contrast to Korea’s conditions. The employers’ year-end tax bill under the new tax code and national health reform backtracked in the face of public backlash. It was because the government still believed people would silently take orders. This country is no monarchy. The intention of the revised tax bill was to make the system fairer by switching to deductions designed to levy more taxes on the higher-income group and less on the lower-income one. The previous method allowed high earners to receive bigger year-end tax refunds. The more they spent and earned the more deductions they received. The system was long criticized as problematic. The logic was clear and simple, and could not be argued. It could have been sold as a good story. But the government did not.
The problem was in communication. Humans are naturally more sensitive to losses than profit. People who make profit keep silent. But those who incur losses scream. But the administration was oblivious and arrogant. It thought people would do what they were told because it knew best and didn’t bother to go into details or explain. Two years passed while the tax code was announced, drafted into legislation, approved and implemented before it faced a public outcry. There had been enough time to make a story out of it.
The fiasco over national health insurance reform is more pitiful. The government and a team of experts worked on it for 18 months. But just a week before it was to be unveiled, the health minister announced the plan would be delayed indefinitely. When the government faced criticism from both sides of the legislative, it said it would try to finalize health care reform this the year. The goal of the reform is to fix imbalance, inefficiency and loop holes in the public health care system to make it more sustainable and affordable for all. A mother and her two grown daughters who killed themselves because they could not afford to live had to pay more than 50,000 won ($46) for national health insurance every month.
No one can protest fixing such abnormalities. But bureaucrats willingly dropped the plan because it did not want to put the Blue House in a more awkward situation. It would have seen a different ending if it paid more attention to convincing the people instead of trying to win favor with the president. A policy is for the people not the president. But they cannot be blamed. It was the Blue House that made bureaucrats so narrow-sighted.
Obama’s health reform is still resisted by many in America. The Republicans attack it at every opportunity. The federal government nearly faced a shutdown because of a budget fight over health care costs. Legislators have drawn up bills to kill or roll back Obamacare. But the national policy in the first two years drew 10 million subscribers. It is not up to us to decide whether his policy is right or wrong. But we envy his sincere and resolute storytelling. In making his final appeal to legislators, Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true.”
At the end of the day, he got his plan. JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 11, Page 32
*The author is the editor of business and industry news at the JoongAng Sunday.
by Kim Jong-yoon