Changing is Hard: The Health Care Debate


By Carlos Portocarrero

change is hard

The health care debate has set off a huge debate about how this country should deal with the health care of its citizens. But don’t worry, I’m not about to get into the thick of that debate on a personal-finance blog. But I did read something interesting in James Surowiecki’s latest New Yorker article on the health care debate. He starts out the article talking about how people feel about change:

There are times when Americans’ attitude toward health-care reform seems a bit like St. Augustine’s take on chastity: Give it to us, Lord, but not yet. In theory, the public overwhelmingly supports reform—earlier this year, polls showed big majorities in favor of fundamental change. But, when it comes to actually making fundamental change, people go all wobbly. Just about half of all Americans now disapprove of the way the Obama Administration is handling health care.

What happened that caused people to change their minds so drastically and so quickly? Was it all those town-hall meetings that turned ugly? Maybe, but the flip flop in position is the perfect example of how hard it is to get people to change.

Surowiecki goes on:

…the public’s skittishness about overhauling the system also reflects something else: the deep-seated psychological biases that make people resistant to change.

He goes on to quote experiments from Dan Ariely (author of Predicably Irrational, a book I’ve discussed before) on how people value something that they have more than something they don’t have, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.

This can explain our reluctance to change lots of things in our lives: our jobs, our careers, our routines, etc. It even has a name: “the endowment effect.” The thinking is that, while the “current system” might not work very well, at least it works. And trying to change it might be a lot of work—not just to effect the change, but to adjust to the change.

Can you think of something in your life you’d hesitate (or have hesitated) to change because you’d rather keep the status-quo?

Image by Joe Shlabotnik


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