Beyond Mudslinging: BlogHer, Sunlight Foundation and OpenCongress.org Invite Women Online to Talk Health Care Policy

BlogHer Original Post

"Healther Skelter," joked Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this week invoking apocalyptic war as he broadcast clips of Americans shouting at each other, senators and congressional representatives at health care policy meetings across the country.

Did Stewart exaggerate? Yes and no. In the two weeks since 20 bloggers sat down at BlogHer '09 to talk health care with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, the issue has ignited. No matter which version you read or prefer, policy discussions are kindling into anger and even violence.

That's why this week BlogHer is joining forces with the Sunlight Foundation and their new program, OpenCongress.org, to try to move the conversation beyond partisan mud-slinging into a civil debate (or even just a civil disagreement) about the future of health care policy in the United States. As spin zones have become increasingly spittle-flecked, many voters -- women in particular -- are losing patience with drama and losing trust in the players. We want to talk policy:

"Stop the madness," blogged Kim Pearson. "Americans have a crucial health care reform proposal moving through the halls of Congress, and we desperately need an informed conversation about its merits. Instead, we're getting people screaming about whether the people screaming at town hall meetings are sock puppets or concerned citizens. We're getting statements from some opponents that grossly distort what's in the bill, and breezy assurances from Pres. Obama that leave important questions unanswered.

"Let's have a serious conversation - you and me - about what we want Congress to do when they return from their fall recess."

Amen. In the past two weeks, women have submitted dozens of questions, opinions and recommendations to the Obama Administration via BlogHer.com and the personal blog of Erin Kotecki Vest, BlogHer's political director. I'll summarize the comments further below, but suffice it to say that one overwhelming complaint is about the quality of information available.

That's where the Sunlight Foundation comes in. Since 2006, the Sunlight Foundation has been equipping citizens with non-partisan information about Congress and the federal government. We think their projects and tools are invaluable resources for citizens, bloggers and journalists who are committed to bringing factual information and transparency into their decisions, discussions, and stories about health care reform.

By launching OpenCongress.org, an open source and non-partisan resource, the Sunlight team has worked with the Participatory Politics Foundation to combine official government data with news and blog coverage. BlogHer Community Manager Denise Tanton, who has 15 years of experience working with women in social media on sites such as Women.com, iVillage.com and WebMD, said of OpenCongress, "This site's mash-up of government data, media and blog coverage allows voters to not only read the existing health care reform bill but to also fact check statements heard on TV, read on the web, or debated over dinner with your in-laws."

We love that. So we've invited previous Sunlight's Nancy Watzman to share their investigations on BlogHer.com multiple times a week. She'll begin with:

1) H.R. 3200: America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009: A step-by-step look at what information is available on the House legislation, including how to use OpenCongress tools to read the bill, follow votes, news, blogs, videos and comments about the bill, write your representative and create a bill widget.

2) An overview of tools and reports from Sunlight and how these tools can help people make sense of what they’re reading and hearing. (My personal fave, Party Time, "tracks parties for members of Congress or congressional candidates that happen all year round in Washington, D.C. and beyond."

3) An in-plain-English look at the lobbyists, the money, the influencers. Start with Visualizing the Health Care Lobbyist Complex.

As Nancy reports, our politics and policy bloggers will join in -- and as I've said many times about our highly diverse and partisan crew of righties and lefties, BlogHer is nonpartisan, but our bloggers aren't! We'll offer you resources, actual legislation, commentary from inside and outside the legislative debate and my own personal opinion, which OpenCongress captures here:


Photo credit: OpenCongress.org

More than anything, we want to hear from you. Thank you so much, those of you who took the time to answer when I asked (in open frustration), How do we make "Health Care" as sexy as "Beer Summit"? Obama Administration asks BlogHers to help. Will you?.

You gave some frank responses about how the White House should host this conversation. Apologies in advance if you don't like my titles -- but the verbatim quotes are yours:

Dear White House, Please Reframe the Debate: It's the Economy, Stupid

Yes, the stories of the injustice of healthcare on struggling or ill families are important, but they are preaching to the choir and unfortunately trigger fears of socialism from others. The movable middle needs to get it that our prosperity as free capitalists is being choked by the current system, and reform will free us to create greater health and prosperity for the country. The Administration needs to get its wonks working on framing the issue broader. ~ DebontheRocks

Enough with the partisan politics, what is the actual Obama recommendation anyhoo?

My frustration is that I don't know what the Obama administration's health care reform plan is. I hear the president setting goals and I appreciate his support for a public option but I think the White House might be taking the perceived lessons of the '90s - that Congress must not feel shut out - too far. The goals seem to slip and shift and Congress seems so ridiculously beholden to corporate health interests who have bought them outright. I long to hear a simple, clear message about what we are trying to achieve and where we are trying to go. Americans want this and when even someone like me, who is far wonkier than the average bear, has a hard time keeping up, it's a problem. And this is why our resolve to get this done starts to weaken ~ Maria Niles

Stop politicking and start focusing on public policy, people!

We need to spend time on this bill, not try to rush it through. We don't need the coercive insurance companies taking part in the making of the legislation, large pharma buying off congressmen, nor do we need the equally coercive AMA taking part. ~ Cooper

Let's do SOMETHING!

I’m worried that all the infighting between the single payer advocates and the Health Care for All Network activists is weakening the push for reform. I think single payer makes the most sense but is not possible in this political climate. The single payer folks say that a push from the left is essential to get meaningful reform. I tend to think that we should be joining forces to fight for what’s possible—a strong public option. ~ Karen Bojar

Prove it can be done

Overhauling the insurance industry is a huge step. The term "government option" scares a lot of people. I think the best way to get more people on board would be to use the ideas President Obama has on Medicare, Military medical care and the VA. These programs have lots of problems and need reform.I think if the American people could see the President's ideas work to provide better care at a lower cost to those already being served by government health care programs, more people would be willing to support his legislation. ~ Kristin

Many of you also have strong opinions about policy -- from the left and the right -- as well as America's moral and fiscal imperative:

What kind of nation are we? America can do better

Do we want to be the country who will pick a corpse up off the street but not help the woman who will become the corpse without health insurance? I think not. ~ Rita Arens

Tell me what to do to help

I will do ANYTHING I can to help this health care bill get passed with a public option. Not for me, because I'm on Medicare, but for all the people who will come after me who will find their health care costs rising and Medicare bankrupt if we don't....just give me a communications assignment and I am there. ~ Francine Hardaway

Take care of people, not profits

It isn't insurance we all need, it is Health Care. Get that? Service from doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers. Insurance is not a health care provider. Insurance companies are the cancer, the middle man making a profit off the fear of suffering and denying people who are suffering. ~ Amka Problemka

I have to agree with Melissa - I would love to see a day when any health insurance company must be a non-profit entity. When you're trying to profit off of the health of the people, you're going to cut corners and find ways to make more money, even at the expense of the people you are supposedly protecting. Wall Street has shown us that greed is limitless. - Christina

Uninsured and Scared

I've met with staff from both of my Senators' offices to express my support for healthcare reform. I was laid off a year ago, and earlier this summer, launched my own small business. Although I maintained COBRA coverage for a couple of months, I haven't had insurance since the beginning of the year. ~ Liza Barry-Kessler

Most of us are one illness away from bankruptcy

I hear that if we "like" what we're getting at our employers then this won't affect us. We can stick w/that. What if we don't like what our employers are offering us? What if what our employers are
offering us less than before? Will the government fill in the gaps for us? It should. I agree that those who's have no coverage need it. But most of us are underinsured. Please remember us too! ~ jemcelroy

I'm Canadian and our system rocks

Reality is that no system is perfect, and yes, I'm the first to moan about Doctors and paternalism, but I never moan about the fact that I never see a bill. It's wonderful, and I love it, and I never live in fear of not being able to pay for being sick. I get to see any doctor I want, anytime, and the only gatekeepers are doctors. Not bureaucrats, another myth that drives me crazy. Doctors decide based on medical evidence who gets treatment. ~ Aurelia

I have Canadian friends and I don't want their system!

We still need free enterprise health care. We are intelligent people and we should have choices when it comes to our health care. I'm a teacher and I know what happens when policies get decided in some office somewhere without looking at the reality of what's going on in your classroom. We can't let this happen in health care. It will become all about the bottom line and not about what's best for the person. ~ klynn4jc

Stay tuned -- our coverage starts later today. We would really love your help -- please add any links or comments below that you think we should all read.

Best,
Lisa

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