The language of health care reform was the subject of a workshop at the recent Catholic Health Association Assembly in San Diego. As reported by Nancy Frazier O'Brien for the Catholic News Service, several speakers at the workshop explained that a common understanding of the language used in the health care reform debate is critical to the discussion.
"Language counts and context counts," said Wade Rose, vice president for external and government relations at Catholic Healthcare West in San Francisco.
He said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was able to achieve a universal health care program for the city by focusing on the need for a "medical home" for every San Franciscan. The term means that each person would have a place to go for health care when he or she needed it.
"It was an image that people understood," Rose said. "So the plan had 86 percent support right off the bat."
But the average American does not necessarily understand concepts that might be commonplace to Catholic health care administrators, he said.
"It's hard for us to have a good understanding of how the public thinks about hospitals," Rose said, suggesting the administrators could get an idea about the information gap if they consider "the way you think about utility companies."
Jennifer Tolbert, principal policy analyst at the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured in Washington, said that even use of the words "health care reform" can mean different things to different people, depending on their party affiliation.
Kaiser surveys have found that when Republicans think about health care reform they usually mean ways to combat rising costs, while Democrats think primarily about the growing number of uninsured people, she said.
How we engage one another in the reform debate will certainly shape the discussion. But how can we establish a common language for health care reform when meaning and context change with ideology or political affiliation?