The Stanford Center on Longevity and the Stanford Center on Health Policy are developing an educational game, “Sudden Stop USA,” to help Americans understand solutions to our nation’s fiscal crisis.

Our nation can avoid an economic “sudden stop” or “death spiral” by making changes to our current government revenue and spending policies, but these policy changes must include restraining the rising growth of health care spending.

In an interactive and engaging game format, each player selects from among six different plans for defense spending, domestic spending, and tax reform. However, these choices will not save the nation from economic peril until the player also focuses on health care costs. Once focused on health care costs, the player selects health care results that are affordable and offer the benefits for Americans that the player desires. The player then has an opportunity to see how these particular choices affect both the federal deficit and the health of the population.

The game will record which policy courses and health outcomes were chosen. Results will be communicated with policy makers who need to know that the voting public can understand and make reasonable, value based choices of policies to save the nation’s economy.

Americans of all ages will be encouraged to play “Sudden Stop USA,” with the hope that enjoyment of the game itself and social networking tools will expand its audience. A public relations campaign will be developed to coincide with the launch of the game to create awareness of the game. A particular audience for “Sudden Stop USA” will be registered voters who are empanelled to play the game through the course of the 2012 election cycle.

Representative panels of voters will play the game through the Republican primaries, and then voter panels from both parties will play the game prior to their respective conventions. Finally, a panel of general election voters will play leading up to November, 2012 general election. The results of these voter panel/players will be reported to policy makers and to the public.

The game design is based on extensive policy and academic expertise. The range of policy choices is based on the results of The Solutions Initiative of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which brought together expert plans from the American Enterprise Institute, The Bipartisan Policy Center, the Center for American Progress, the Economic Policy Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and the Roosevelt Institute/Campus Network to address our nation’s fiscal challenges. The six plans in The Solutions Initiative offer tax and spending policy choices from across the political spectrum from which the players may choose.

When these choices still are not enough to solve the nation’s debt crisis, the player must then select from a range of health care futures which have been developed with the Stanford Center on Health Policy and the application of the Future Elderly Model from the University of Southern California/RAND in consultation with the Kaiser Family Foundation and other development partners.

Generous initial funding for the game has been contributed by the Stephen F. Bechtel Foundation. Academic and policy partners for the game include the following:

• The Stanford Center on Longevity – Dr. Laura Carstensen, Jane Hickie, Ken Smith, Margaret Dyer-    Chamberlain
• The Stanford Center on Health Policy – Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Kathryn MacDonald, Nomita Divi
• USC/RAND – Dr. Dana Goldman
• The Kaiser Family Foundation – Dr. Drew Altman, Larry Levitt
• Mr. Michael Carter, game design expert
• Say Design – Game developers
• Vince Breglio and Associates, Peter G. Hart and Associates, Geoff Garin, Molly O’Rourke – political    research and polling
• The American Enterprise Institute – Andrew Biggs, Karlyn Bowman, Henry Olsen

Initial funding will enable the development of a “beta version” of the game by December 2011 in order to use the game with voter panels throughout the Republican primaries. Additional funding is required in order to publicize the game nationally, communicating with the general public and with policy makers, to test the results that the game advances, and expand and upgrade the game based on results from the initial release.

Our nation’s leaders cannot resolve our financial challenges without expert consensus on policy options, and without the assurance that the public is willing and able to understand and participate in significant trade-offs to secure the nation’s future. Understanding health care trade-offs is critical to this conversation.

“The fundamental difficulty with respect to health care is that none of us really knows what specific reforms are needed to restrain cost growth-and how much those reforms might save – while also maintaining high quality health services and outcomes.” Nevertheless, “all agree that health care costs represent the largest threat to our fiscal and economic future.”
(The Solutions Initiative, Peterson Foundation, page 5)