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I enjoy watching the Netflix original show House of Cards! I studied politics and health policy because I want to have a role in improving the quality of information that informs our health policy decisions. I am also intrigued by the drama of the political process. Elections, public opinion polls, news coverage and political events pit passionate people and (seemingly) opposing ideas against each other in pursuit of government policies. With access, quality and cost of health care at stake, how can health politics not be intriguing?

(And, yes, I will reference season three content next, i.e., SPOILER ALERT.)

Credit: "House of Cards" on Netflix via MyLittleVisuals

Credit: “House of Cards” on Netflix via MyLittleVisuals

Then, along comes a show like House of Cards, which blends real issues and government processes with….fictitious and outrageous extremes. For example, in season three, President Frank Underwood makes an executive decision to declare unemployment to be a national disaster and procures funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to kickstart an employment program. While his program managed to employ tens of thousands of DC residents, it also wiped out FEMA’s ability to respond to an impending hurricane.

One benefit of this story line is that it has the potential to raise the profile of FEMA and what it does. In the show, reactions to President Underwood’s actions focused on the importance of FEMA and how it helps people. The show also featured disaster responders who are part of the FEMA corps. All of this allowed viewers to learn more about FEMA outside of the pressures of a real disaster.

Interestingly, the real FEMA tried to leverage the popularity of the show, with mixed results. Soon after the release of season three, FEMA tweeted about this part of the story prompting disapproval among some fans who had not yet watched this season. (” ‘House of Cards’ Fans Ding FEMA Over Spoiler, FEMA Apologizes “) FEMA soon realized they should have included a spoiler alert. Ooops. FEMA also blogged about the real FEMA corps. (“Two Truths and Some Artistic Liberties: FEMA Corps and House of Cards“) Kudos to FEMA for engaging in popular culture and reminding viewers of their reality.

And, thanks to House of Cards and FEMA for an Encore!

To follow real health care policy and politics:

  • Health Affairs, a journal “at the intersection of health, health care and policy
  • Health Care on CQ Roll Call, “timely news, objective facts and analysis, and coverage of elections and the politics of legislation