News Features

Promoting Civil Citizen Participation In Health Care Deliberations

K-State Engagement E-News, November/December 2009 (PDF)

by Kara Dillard

The shouting, discouraging and uncivil discussions on health care reform in Congressionally sponsored town hall meetings this summer did not come as a surprise to Erika Imbody, project coordinator for the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy (ICDD). Results from nine Kansas-based National Issues Forums (NIF) public deliberations indicated that the public, as of the spring and early summer was not ready to move forward with health care reform.

According to Imbody, Kansans expressed the feeling that they did not have enough information on health insurance costs, why the costs of medical care continue to increase and possible challenges and benefits of proposed solutions in order for them to support change. Imbody argued the negatively charged political discourse from Congressional town hall meetings was predictable, because national leaders choose to ignore deliberative results from ICDD and other Kettering Foundation partners. During Imbody's presentation, she contrasted the negative political discussion on health care reform captured by the media with that of NIF and ICDD sponsored public deliberations. The NIF method involves not just talking or discussing ones opinion of the subject, but involves choice work - discussing the trade-offs of making change and whether those trade-offs are acceptable to the public. This model diffuses negative discourse while encouraging thoughtful, passionate and civil deliberation.

Imbody closed by noting that had more public deliberation preceded Congressional discussions and the strategy of "tell and sell," Congress and President Obama may have had an easier time passing necessary changes to the U.S. health care system.