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Senators’ Dueling Web Shoutouts Echo Nation’s Partisan Divide On Obamacare

Politically, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are not all that far apart. Both are moderates who rejected proposed cuts in Medicaid funds. And yet, in the highly polarized atmosphere of Washington, D.C., they find themselves rallying constituents along diametrically opposed positions.

The dialogue has become President Obama’s Affordable Care Act versus a new GOP bill, called (for now) the American Health Care Act. A love-it-or-leave-it mentality pervades both sides. As angry voters at town halls express their concerns about the state of American health care, the senators are reaching out for patient stories to prove their respective viewpoints.

“Let Me Know Your Obamacare Story” Portman’s website asks and — from the introduction — he’s in search of a particular narrative.

“President Obama’s big government health care bill was supposed to bend the cost curve down,” Portman’s message reads. Instead, it goes on, the average Ohioan with a health care plan obtained through Obamacare pays “nearly an extra $100 a month” in premiums.

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“That’s money that could be going toward retirement, groceries, and their children’s higher education; instead it’s going to cover President Obama’s costly mandates,” the website says.

Portman could play a particularly pivotal role in shaping the Senate’s health care bill because he is a member of the 13-member working group that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tasked with writing the first draft.

Warner is in search of a different kind of tale. “Share Your ACA Success Story,” a solicitation that’s been on his website since late February, just weeks after the GOP took control of the House and made repealing Obamacare a top priority.

“Help me make the case against repealing the Affordable Care Act,” it states. “Since its enactment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped millions of Americans gain comprehensive health coverage to protect themselves from life’s many unexpected events.” It cites lower rates of uninsured Virginians.

Portman and Warner are operating in different realities. In Portman’s world, Obamacare has failed; in Warner’s, it’s a huge success. “On particularly high-profile issues like this, the parties are coming from different places and speaking to predominantly different constituencies,” said Elizabeth Rigby, an associate professor of public administration and public policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “The idea [that] Rob Portman begins with his assumption and Warner goes to his is actually a pretty understandable dynamic in our current polarized climate.”

Neither senator’s office responded to KHN’s requests for comment.

There is no mystery about human stories’ effectiveness in shaping opinions and helping win debates.

“The stories will usually paint the picture of situations that the audience can empathize with, or see themselves in, or that someone they know has experienced,” said Paul Achter, who chairs the rhetoric and communication studies department at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

One famous example occurred in the early 1990s when health insurers created a memorable advertising campaign about a fictional couple named “Harry and Louise,” whose griping about their medical bills helped sink the Clinton administration’s health care overhaul. In 2009, the couple returned in a new campaign sponsored by drugmakers and a health care advocacy group to support President Obama’s health care plan.

But the notion that the “real” patient stories featured in debates and advertisements reflect constituents’ reality is highly questionable. One Portman constituent, Sarah, complained that she’d sent the senator an email telling him she was dissatisfied with Betsy DeVos’ nomination to be Education secretary, only to receive “robo email” asking if she had any stories of bad experiences with Obamacare.

“I almost lost my mind,” she said. An ovarian cancer survivor, Sarah responded to Portman’s email solicitation saying she was grateful for the Affordable Care Act because she no longer worried about her preexisting condition.

“I know you were hoping for an ‘I hate Obamacare’ story, but you won’t get that from me,” she wrote.

Both senators have effectively weaponized their constituents’ stories on the Senate floor. In January, Portman harnessed the power of personal experiences to illustrate problems that he said his constituents have had with the health care law.

“There’s a family of five that wrote to me after the cost of his family’s insurance doubled. Another man saw his $100 deductible soar to $4,000 while his premium hit $1,000 a month,” Portman said. “Again, these folks just can’t afford it.”

Warner played the same card in a February speech opposing Tom Price’s nomination as secretary of Health and Human Services. He spoke of an organic farmer in his state who had relied on an Obamacare plan to get health care for her family.

“The coverage gains we’ve seen are remarkable, that’s clear from hundreds of Virginians who’ve contacted me with stories,” Warner said.

But in a highly divided electorate — Americans were evenly split over the law in April, with 46 percent reporting they supported it and 46 percent saying they didn’t — such heartwarming stories may be pushing people apart, rather than pulling them together.

HHS announces the Move Health Data Forward Phase 3 challenge winners

HHS Gov News - May 31, 2017

As part of its ongoing efforts to support the interoperable flow of health information, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today announced the Phase 3 – and final – winners of the Move Health Data Forward Challenge. The multi-phase challenge focused on the development of applications allowing individuals to share their personal health information safely and securely with their health care providers, family members or other caregivers.

“The final winners in the Move Health Data Forward challenge show us that electronic health information can truly be owned by patients and their family members,” said Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology. “We expect these winning apps will open up new ways for Americans to own and manage their health information safely and securely.”

The final winners are:

  • Foxhall Wythe LLC: DocketTM is a secure system for users to seamlessly store and share their health data with trusted care providers. The solution promotes Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance and uses industry-standard FHIR® messages. The authorization for sharing of data is accomplished through a Quick Response (QR) code scan and an OAuth 2.0 handshake.
  • Live and Leave Well, LLC: Live and Leave WellTM provides both a consumer mediated exchange of end of life plans and creates a transportable package of data about that person’s end of life plans. The application uses a combination of open application program interfaces, direct integration as well as OAuth 2.0 to securely move sensitive data among multiple user types.

Phase 1 of the Move Health Data Forward Challenge required applicants to submit their plans describing how they would develop solutions to help with the flow of health information. The ten Phase 1 winners were awarded $5,000 each and moved on to Phase 2, which required participants to demonstrate a viable solution to achieve the challenge’s goals. The five Phase 2 winners were each awarded $20,000 and moved on to Phase 3 where they implemented their solutions through a mobile or web-based application. The final winners will receive $50,000 each.

The Move Health Data Forward Challenge builds on ONC’s work with the Health Relationship Trust (HEART) Workgroup’s security, privacy and health information technology stakeholders. These stakeholders are collaborating on the development of a set of privacy and security specifications enabling individuals to control the authorization of access to their health data. These efforts are part of a larger community-driven movement toward helping individuals and clinicians benefit from the full potential of health information technology.

The challenge winners will be featured in a public webinar on Friday June 23, 2017 at 11:00 am.  For more information, please visit the Move Health Data Forward page.