The long argument

There seem to me to be a number of good arguments for a health care system not unlike one that works.  Ours it not one that works at its primary job–delivering health care.  It seems rather its primary job is restricting it and rationing it on the basis of employment, wealth, or oddly, extreme (and undesirable) poverty.  That leaves people in a bind, of sorts.  If they're extremely wealthy (against all misfortune), it doesn't matter; if they're extremely poor or above the age of 65, they're covered (partially);  If they get a job that pays enough, they go off medicaid, and so become poor in a different way again; if they aren't rich and old, they will still live with severely restrictive costs; for everyone else, the wheel of fortune (employment) turns round and round: don't even think about starting your own business (you'll lose your benefits!), getting fired, working for an innovative start-up company with no benefits, living in an area with no access to quality health care (it's true folks), or, worst of all, don't even think of getting sick, for you may still go bankrupt anyway.  So those are reasons–sufficient I think–to change our system.  Every other industrialized nation in the world has (1) better health care outcomes; (2) pays not nearly what we already pay per person; (3) covers everyone.  Those are fairly straightforward facts.  The level of direct government involvement in each of these systems varies: a lot in the case of Britain; little in the case of Germany and Switzerland.  It has been established by crushing, boring, Al Gore-style reality, that such systems exist, work, and few of the citizens in those countries would dream of switching them for what we have.  What does this mean?  It means that when folks like Tom Coburn, Senator of Oklahoma, say that it's false that government is the solution, it is right to wonder what the evidence for that view is.  The government has been the solution for everyone else.

Normally here we don't make arguments.  We criticism them.  That of course opens us to the (immature) objection: if you're so smart, etc.  This is not an answer to that criticism–which is too silly to be answered.  Rather, in light of the enormous weight of the evidence in favor of a health care system not unlike one that works (and there many examples of them), we in America have to have a conversation about things like the following:

Obamacare Version 1.0 is dead. The 1,000-page monstrosity that emerged in various editions from Congress was done in by widespread national revulsion not just at its expense and intrusiveness but also at the mendacity with which it is being sold. You don't need a PhD to see that the promise to expand coverage and reduce costs is a crude deception, or that cutting $500 billion from Medicare without affecting care is a fiction.  

Yes, a red herring.  Back in 1993–I remember it well–a criticism of the Clinton plan was that it involved "very long" and "complicated" legislation.  Here is James Fallows' comment (in 1995!) on this argument:

To say that the resulting package of proposals was "too complex" is like saying that an airplane's blueprint is too complicated. The Medicare system is complex. So is every competing health-care-reform plan. Most of the 1,342 pages of Clinton's Health Security Act (which I have read) are either pure legal boilerplate or amendments to existing law. Conventional wisdom now holds that the sheer bulk of the bill guaranteed its failure. The Nafta bill was just as long, and so was the crime bill that passed last summer. If the health bill had been shorter and had not passed, everyone would know that any proposal so sketchy and incomplete never had a chance.

As for the "long" argument:

So I did some number crunching. I threw all my old Technician newspaper columns into Word, removed all paragraph breaks and titles, 12pt. Times New Roman double-spaced and came out to be 342 words/page. I took some representative samples of reports with natural paragraph breaks and section titles, also 12pt. Times New Roman double-spaced, and got between 270 and 300 words/page. Online you’ll find that an average book has between 200 and 250 words/page. I even went and compiled some quick and dirty statistics on the Harry Potter books, which average 255 words/page [no, I didn't control for publishing format, just wanted some quick numbers].

For H.R. 3200, I went and found the number of words per page for 20 random pages throughout the bill. The numbers ranged from 104 word/page to 215 words/page, for an average of about 159 words/page for the 1,036 page health care bill.

If we take these figures for more commonly found page formatting (342, 300, 270, 255, 250 words/page) and translate that to the health care bill, we’d have a bill that is between 485 pages to 663 pages, for an average length of 592 pages.

The last five books in the Harry Potter series have page lengths of roughly 448, 752, 870, 652, and 784. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel hardcover clocks in at 512 pages. War and Peace is over 1200. Atlas Shrugged is about 1200 pages too.

Take that Randians–Atlas Shrugged is longer than the health care bill!  Who could possibly be expected to read it?

In the end, I think it would be nice to have a conversation about reality, but perhaps in the meantime, we can avoid debating about whether a bill is "complicated" (of course it is to some degree, but geez), or "long".  Those are just silly red herrings.

4 thoughts on “The long argument”

  1. That second one was a gem–“the single payer system to which it will inevitably lead. . . ”  I don’t really want to argue about that.  If you do, you can post something about it on your site.  I think I was interested in the various distractions from the central issues here.

  2. Hey John,

    I can’t believe that you don’t think that a health care system governed entirely by fate and luck is the best solution. The Fates are always in control and we should not mess with them. That is why I don’t believe there should be any emergency medical services, or an army, or even a police force. What a bunch of needless government waste!! I mean if I get sick without insurance, well that is just bad luck. Just like if I become a target of someone who wishes to kill me and take all my stuff:  it clearly was inevitable. So why have a police force? This incredibly massive waste on the police, fire and rescue, especially the military, and now the proposed health care plan, well that is just unacceptable. So I am moving to a state that hasn’t had any meddling government to provide those things for nearly two decades . I’m going to Somalia! A land of complete freedom where I can pursue my own rational self-interest without any possibility of government interference.  God bless Somalia, a truly free market. Now if I could only find that M-16 I used to distract the healthcare debate last week.

    Seriously, thanks for continually bringing some sense to a “debate” that seems to lack it entirely. 

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