Healthy Debate

I was sitting more or less comfortably in the chair of Kelly, The World’s Greatest Dental Hygienist, the other day and during the rinse cycle we compared notes on getting a swine flu shot. Call it health care multi-tasking. We both admitted some ambivalence in our individual assessments of the risks of the epidemic du jour—and this despite more news coverage than the war in Iraq (make your own casualty comparison here).

And for the umpteenth time in the last couple of years I found myself pondering two of the most pressing issues of our time, our health care system and the American media—or state of American journalism to be more specific. The health care discussion continues to befuddle me in its complexity and seemingly intractable contradictions. We live in a community with extraordinary health care and, I am increasingly convinced, some of the smartest, most visionary health care leaders in the game today, in the heart of a nation with the highest quality health care in the world.

It’s also the same nation that tolerates the deaths of 22,000 Americans each year because they lack health insurance and is the only developed nation in the world where medical bankruptcies occur. You see my dilemma. In fact it’s our country’s dilemma. And while we are fortunate to live in a state that at least one recent study has found provides the highest quality AND most affordable health care in the country, it too suffers from many of the same access issues as every other state.

Those issues pose enough of a challenge to the physical, emotional and economic health of the people living in the greater Madison region that a broad coalition of Dane County journalists decided that should be the focus of the new, community journalism initiative All Together Now. All Together Now was not my idea. It was the brainchild of the editor of this magazine, Brennan Nardi, and Isthmus news editor Bill Lueders and their colleagues Andy Hall at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and UW–Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communications professor Deborah Blum. But I am a veteran of the civic journalism movement that swept this country in the mid to late ’90s and I was thrilled to see this project come together. Especially now, and especially here. Nearly two dozen media partners in print, radio, television and internet are collaborating to put “one critical community issue—health care access—under a microscope … maximiz[ing] our ability to educate the public about the problem and propose pragmatic solutions to clearing the way to quality and accessible health care for all.” All media partners are taking their own individual approach to the topic as befits their delivery model and their audience. The first reporting period runs for two weeks, from October 18th through October 31st.

This is important because health care is important and this community should be a leader in providing it to all. It’s also important because I am as certain as ever that democracy requires journalism, and this magazine along with every other media outlet in this community should be a leader in ensuring it for all. So I urge you to read Brennan’s superb contribution to this effort (Disappearing Docs) and keep your eye out for stories and analysis from the other All Together Now partners.

My annual visits to the golf course have diminished to the point where a driver in my hands is a health risk for anyone within a hundred yards of me. Thus my admiration for the kind of year Steve Stricker has compiled on the PGA tour is tinged with awe. He was an obvious choice for our Person of the Year. But the editors and I were pleasantly surprised to find quite a few people in our community had pretty good years in what was by and large a pretty tough year. Wonder if they got flu shots.

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