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What Potty Training Taught Me About Health Reform

Posted By Ben Miller, Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A.K.A.: "Don't Write Blog Posts Too Late At Night or This is What You Get"

Now that I have your attention, let me really get down to what I want to talk about: What potty training has taught me about health reform. You see, I have a 19 month old who is experiencing the rite that we mostly all have passed (hopefully), potty training. It occurred to me that there are many principles for health reform that also apply to potty training (and vice versa). So, without being too crude let me get started:

  1. Sometimes it is about patience: Patience is usually a great skill to have when entering into any type of new (and often significant) change. There are those who have committed serious amounts of time (read their life’s work) to seeing change in healthcare. While I cannot say that I have spent the majority of my life working on potty training, relative to how long my daughter has been alive, I would argue that it has been a significant amount of her life. Yet, we wait. There have been various aspects of healthcare that lead me to believe that yes, we are close to something big; however, just like potty training, when you think you have it, something inevitably happens that changes your opinion about the directions you are going. Take away: Deep breath, start again…
  2. Those most invested in success may not be who you think: This one is pretty obvious to me, but think about it from a child’s perspective: Why change when I have everything I need already in place? A diaper – check! A parent to change – check! There are those in the current healthcare system who are just this way. A public dependent on health coverage – check! Lots of sick people – check! Why change this? Well let’s begin with the fact that healthcare is a booming business. Even in our current economical situation, healthcare continues to prevail financially. Because many experts agree that payment reform is central to a redesigned and successful system, some may not want their bottom line affected. In addition, there are provider groups within healthcare that are afraid they will lose out because their specialized form of payment could be consolidated within a larger healthcare budget. These are all very real conversations that are happening now! Take away: Examining others motives in success (or failure) is not a bad thing to do.
  3. If at first you don’t succeed… Some failure with potty training is inevitable. I mean, come on, this is the first time the little one has had to demonstrate self-control (and in a major way). There will be small success and some setbacks, but all in all, it will be worth it if you can just stick it out. Healthcare? Well let’s just say that we have been trying to succeed at building a high-quality, cost conscious, efficient system for some time, but aren’t quite there. As a matter of fact, we have regressed in many ways. We pay more and get less for our healthcare than we have in the past, and there is little question that if we don’t change now, no one will be able to afford healthcare anyway! Take away: practice makes perfect (or at least better).
  4. Be prepared for false alarms: Baucus bill emerges; no one likes it. Having your child say the word "potty” meaning they are in the act of (verb) rather than describing the item they wish to use (noun). Take away: One can never really know if this is really "it” but we have to keep working like it is.
  5. Convenience vs. Inconvenience: Imagine this, you have the Cadillac plan for insurance – you are covered from head to toe, and pay relatively little for what you receive. Someone comes up to you and says, "Hey, we should change health insurance.” Your first response is not likely to be "OK that sounds great!” In the same vein, you are at home, and "potty” is mentioned – look how easy it is to access this wonderful and convenient service that doesn’t require you to do too much to accommodate. Now, same scenario – "potty” but you are now out on the road with no potty. Your first response is not likely to be "OK that sounds great!” Take away: Sometimes complex change requires us all to be a little inconvenienced for the sake of the greater good.

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Comments on this post...

Randall Reitz says...
Posted Friday, July 8, 2011
First point: You're potty training a 19 month-old? You two are parents of the year! My oldest was in diapers until 26 months old, and our boy wouldn't even glance at a toilet until 3 years old.

Real point: This healthcare reform push has been the first piece of legislation that I have watched closely through the machinations of the political process. It has been at times inspiring (mostly during the start-up and when I saw the president live in Grand Junction) and at times infuriating. By now, I'm feeling a sense of "As good as it gets". No, it probably won't be the bill that I originally wanted, but it will make some important changes and will shake up the industry.
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Peter Y. Fifield says...
Posted Friday, July 8, 2011
Ben, I think this is great parallel! I currently am fumbling with and learning from my two year old's potty adventures. One thing I have gleaned from this process is the concept of re-framing. The mere fact that I was informed (albeit with significant urgency--"Papa, I really need to go") was a step in the positive direction. Granted we did not ultimately make it to the potty in time but there was progress none-the-less.

Regarding health care reform, I think the current momentum in the health care arena will perpetuate change for some time to come. As Randall noted it may be "as good as it gets" for right now. However health care reform seems to be in thenascent stages and regardless of how slow and difficult the change may be, it is a step in the right direction.
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Ben Miller says...
Posted Friday, July 8, 2011
Pete - it is nice to know that I am not alone in the world at finding a parallel here. Randall - agreed about the paying attention part - I have my nose in a newspaper as often as I can to know what is moving in the various bills. The Baucus (Senate Finance) bill is in the spotlight this week, and has lead to a ton of national discussion on important issues (public option, etc.). These are exciting times, but as the post alludes, challenging at the same time.
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