Playing Poker with Health Reform

The National Journal’s December 5th issue has a very interesting article comparing President Obama’s approach to key issues to his poker playing style.  (The issue cover states, “Obama as Poker Player.”)

Having played poker for over 45 years, I find the article’s discussion of his cautious approach and preference for standard games very enlightening. For many people today, poker is about Texas Hold’em, a game that is great for TV but rather simplistic in some ways because each player only has 2 cards and shares 5 others.  The National Journal discusses the intellectual, strategic, and personality difference between this game, and more sophisticated games such as five-card draw and seven card stud – as well as more “wild” games such as baseball, although it doesn’t mention my crazed favorite, midnight baseball.

What the National Journal doesn’t discuss is the difference between playing poker on-line versus in-person, and the difference between playing with a bunch of strangers and playing with people you know and might interact with professionally.  These differences are very significant, since playing on-line is all about the odds, and “reading” people can only be done via their betting behaviors.  However, playing in-person enables a player to physically read the opponents, (i.e. see their “tells”), and playing good poker is primarily about playing the other people, and secondarily about playing the cards in your hand and on the table.  And reading the other people becomes even more important – as well as possible – when playing with people you know and have interacted with in other settings, such as negotiating legislation.

So for the President, applying lessons and strategies from poker to health reform, Iran, and other key issues may work well, but I also hope that he remembers that great players don’t win every tournament, and the key to long-term success is knowing when to fold, when and how to bet, and perhaps most importantly how to see around the table to what is likely coming up in future deals so one can be in the game and optimally positioned for future hands.

Healthcare Reform’s House of Cards
For the current health reform efforts, it seems that the cards are being reshuffled and new hands dealt at a time when the legislative house of cards should be getting its final touches and glued together.  Instead, the house of cards seems to keep collapsing – although Senator Reid, (and the President), are doing their best quick-handed action to keep rebuilding it for another try before minor or major political quakes send the cards scattering again. From a fundamental process level, the pulling in and pushing out of new ideas – such as a allowing some younger people to join or buy-into Medicare – is what might have been expected in April, May or June, but not December, and this is not a good sign for enactment of a law anytime soon.

The Substance of Health (Insurance) Reform Without a Public Optio
At this point, it seems that a public option is out of the equation, and some House Members are signaling that they could pass such a bill, but some on the left are arguing that no bill is better than a new law without a public option.  Despite these loud protests, not having a public option isn’t the end of the world, (sorry HD), and I’ll soon write why insurance reforms and coverage expansion are much more important, (sorry, based upon my past experience with health reform legislation, my time in Massachusetts, and my very recent and ongoing ground-level experience in getting new health insurance in the District of Columbia as I prepare to move there from Cambridge, MA. (Preview – Community rating and guarantee issue by non-profit insurers v. medical underwriting by for-profit minded insurers.)

3 thoughts on “Playing Poker with Health Reform

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