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Fear of Change Paralyzes Health-Care Reform

Fear of Change Paralyzes Health-Care Reform

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

September 28, 2009

Sep. 28—During last year’s presidential campaign, polls showed that most Americans wanted the new president to reform the nation’s health-care system.

The evidence is overwhelming: 47 million people are uninsured, health-care costs continue to climb, people are putting off care because of costs, medical bills are the top reason to file bankruptcy, and the nation spends more than $2.2 trillion a year on health care.

But now that President Barack Obama has put health-care reform at the center of the nation’s discussion, many Americans say — and some shout — that they don’t want to change the health system.

What happened? It’s the fear of change, experts say.

“There’s an expression in psychology that the bad looms larger than good,” said Richard Petty, chairman of the department of psychology at Ohio State University.

“It’s kind of adaptive to have your eye out for the bad.”

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For example, he said, it might take you learning four good things about a person to outweigh the one bad thing you heard about him or her.

“Most people are fearful of the unknown and feel it will change for the worst,” said Eva Kahana, director of the elderly-care research center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

“Even if reform means you will get a better doctor, most people will want to stick with the doctor they’ve got.”

Kahana has surveyed elderly people in Cleveland and Florida about health-care reform and said most tell her that while it needs to be fixed, they are talking about the uninsured and underinsured, not themselves.

About 85 percent of Americans have some health insurance.

Some fear that reform will cost more money or that people will have to wait months for medical services. And some worry that the government will ration health care.

“For people who see this as a complex issue, that’s enough to instill doubt,” Petty said. “And when you have doubt, you’re not going to change.”

The fear of change is deeply rooted in the human psyche, experts say. People need tangible proof that health reform will improve their current situation before they sign on.

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