Fueled by a sharp partisan divide, the intense debate over health-care reform in the United States has spread to coffee shops, offices and schools across the country. As members of Congress wrangle over the details of proposed legislation, the debate also has reached "diplomatic cyberspace": the Franklin & Marshall College Web site.
The College launched its Health-Care Policy Blog last month, providing fertile ground for analysis and dialogue on an issue central to the American political landscape. Authors Sean Flaherty '73, professor of economics, and Joseph Karlesky, the Honorable and Mrs. John C. Kunkel Professor of Government, will post periodic blog entries and examine the results of the national Franklin & Marshall College Poll, which now includes questions about people's experiences with American health care.
"The blog creates a space where dialogue about the findings of the poll can occur," says Alan Caniglia, senior associate dean of the faculty and vice provost for planning and institutional research. "This promotes engagement among our alumni and students, but we also hope that it will engage external constituencies."
Flaherty and Karlesky will track people's responses to the poll's questions throughout the national debate on health care. They wrote an op-ed piece analyzing the results of the Sept. 24 F&M poll that appeared in the Nov. 9 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Both professors say the intensity of the current debate reflects the challenges of broad health-care reform.
"This is the perfect storm for partisanship," Flaherty says. "It involves a combination of money and ideology. Any significant change to health care will have to expand the government's role. It's a classic American battleground."
Karlesky says reforming health care is difficult for three reasons: it matters to people on a personal level, involves interest groups and highlights the polarization of American politics.
"The American demand for better health is bottomless—there's no end to it," Karlesky says. "My grandmother said, 'If you don't have your health, you don't have anything.' That saying translates into people's intense individual concern with their health, and it means that people are naturally interested in discussions about health-care policy."
Flaherty, who taught a course on health economics in the past, points to the connection between insurance and employment as a defining characteristic of the current health-care system. He was surprised by the percentage of Americans who expressed satisfaction with their health care in the F&M poll (78 percent).
"But maybe they're not reflecting on how much it actually costs," Flaherty says, noting that paycheck reductions represent a small portion of what people pay for insurance. "People could also be satisfied if they haven't had to do battle with insurance companies to get access to care."
Karlesky has long been fascinated by the health-care debate because it occurs at the intersection of science, technology and public policy.
"I think science and technology need government, and I think government needs science and technology," he says. "How do you use the fruits of biological science and technology to improve the welfare of individual citizens? As long as we look into the future, health care will be part of the policy agenda.
"The virtue of the blog is that it will tap into public sentiment on a crucial public policy issue."
The Sept. 24 Franklin & Marshall College Poll was the first to focus on health-care policy, an area of academic strength for the College. One of three national polls on that topic that the College will conduct this academic year, it was funded by an anonymous donor and released in association with Hearst Television Inc. The poll was prepared by Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute's Center for Opinion Research and the poll's head methodologist, G. Terry Madonna, director of the Floyd Institute's Center for Politics and Public Affairs and director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, Jennifer Harding, project manager, and Kay Huebner, programmer. Caniglia, Flaherty and Karlesky contributed to the poll's content.