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Trahant: Serendipity and a correction

This is a story about how one thing leads to another – or the reason I am writing about health care reform for the next year or so.

A few months ago the Hearst Corporation announced that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, my professional home for the past six years, was for sale. Unless a buyer was found – something unlikely – then the print product would be closed.

I believe this country made a mistake with employer-based health care insurance.

As bad as this sounds, I can’t complain because this came at a good time for me. I loved my job and I have had a great ride in journalism. I viewed this as an opportunity to push myself in a new direction.

This is where serendipity played a role.

First, I applied for the Kaiser Media Fellowship. I thought it would be intellectually challenging to dive deep into a subject and to write about it consistently. Health care seemed a natural fit for several reasons. I’m grateful that Kaiser agreed – because now I have the gift of time.

Why health care reform? First, I believe this country made a mistake with employer-based health care insurance. It worked fine when people went to work for one company and stuck it out for a long stretch of time. But the world has changed.

In Seattle, for example, there is an entire workforce of contractors who must buy their own, individual health insurance policies. Or what works for a major manufacturer doesn’t fit for a small construction company where employees are hired only after successful bids. Employer-based care doesn’t seem to work for a growing number of companies.

Second, over the years I have been struck by how little discussion there has been about how existing federal health care agencies should be a part of the new structure, such as the Indian Health Service.

Third, for a long time I have been fascinated by demographics. This country (indeed, the world) is going through an aging in a way that’s unprecedented. We have to come up with a health care plan that is sustainable for both ends of the system: Those who pay for it, the workers, as well as the massive group of baby boomers who are at the receiving end.

After the P-I ended its print product I was offered a Maymester teaching post at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This was even more serendipitous because I taught (read this: learned a hell of a lot) a course on social media and democratic institutions. Now I want to design my health care reporting and posting on a social media model.

Here is how I plan to proceed:

I plan to write a column on a topic every Monday. This debate is moving fast, but I am relieved that Congress is going home without a resolution. I will also cover meetings from time to time with daily reports and I’ll also post video commentary.

I’ve already heard from readers and will begin posting comments soon. I think interactivity is essential, because the more ideas the better. Early in the fall I plan to add a Wiki page with an outline of what health care should look like. We’ll see where that goes (the great thing about social media is that the experiment is as important as the answer).

My Twitter page for this project is TrahantReports. Because I’m traveling until early August this is the best place, at least right now, for immediate feedback. E-mail also works well.

I think interactivity is essential, because the more ideas the better.

Finally, this project is “open” architecture. Everything I write is free to be picked up, reposted, reprinted, “re-tweeted,” retransmitted, and/or any other rebroadcasting form that I haven’t thought of yet. The ideas are more important than a pride of authorship. It’s great if you give me credit – especially since this is a reflection of my opinion – but if you’d don’t, I won’t squawk. Some of these posts I will re-spin (another “re”) as op-ed pieces for newspapers. Others I will pitch as TV news stories. I may, eventually, collect material for a book.

Open architecture also means being transparent. I have already and will continue to make mistakes. But thanks to the speed of social media and web communication, I will correct mistakes immediately. Last week I posted a wrong e-mail address for those wanting to comment about health care reform. In case you missed it: the correct address (already fixed on the original post) is healthreform@ihs.gov.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you – and I’ll be back next week with another letter. My next step is to write about the delivery of Indian health at the clinic level.

Mark Trahant is a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Trahant was the former editor of the editorial page for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He was recently named a Kaiser Media Fellow and will spend the next year examining IHS and its relevance to the national health reform debate. His Web site is www.marktrahant.com.