The Health Care Debate: How to Get the Facts Yourself

BlogHer Original Post

If you're tired of getting your information about the health care reform debate in the form of yelled slogans, politician's newsbites, and pulverized factoids manufactured by interest groups, there is an alternative. Over at OpenCongress.org, you can go behind the headlines, read the House version of the health care plan yourself, ask questions and comment, and see what other people are saying about the proposal.

For example, did you know that the word "women" occurs just eight times in a document that contains more than 158,800 words?

Through the beauty of the site's "permalink feature," as a blogger, I can direct you to these mentions directly. One refers to how new research on treatment effectiveness should take into account different sub populations, including women.

Another relates to eligibility in a  "medical home pilot project," a new model that rewards doctors who keep their patients healthy using more preventative care. (A little more digging shows this is a trendy new concept supported by industry.)

And here's one related to a more controversial topic--a provision relating to women's eligibility for family planning services.

New internet technology gives us all the opportunity to get involved in the health care debate in a far more substantive way than was ever possible before. More than 200,000 people have already viewed the House version of the bill, H.R. 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, over at OpenCongress.org, more than 100,000 in the past week alone. More than 550 people have commented on specific versions of the text; many are engaging each other over specific elements in the legislation.

The last time this country had a major health care reform debate, in the early 1990s, this sort of technological tool was simply not available. The official Congressional website tracking legislation, thomas.gov, was not launched until 1995. And it was not until the launch of Open Congress, built on official government information, that there was an easy way for citizens to engage with each other about specific aspects of the legislation.

I'm not saying it's an easy read. Much of the bill's text is extremely technical and written in the highest form of legalese. But you'd be surprised what you can learn by looking at these actual words, thinking them through, and googling around to see what other people are saying about them. What will also be fascinating is comparing this House version with a Senate plan, when it becomes available. 

With the mainstream media in deep decline, it really is up to the blogger community to dig into the substance of the health care debate and get the facts out. OpenCongress.org is one great tool--I'll be writing more in coming days about others that are just a mouse click or two away.

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