Why read the final health care bill?


As noted below, the Baucus health care bill was finally released in legislative language (soon to be available on Open Congress) — finally. The bill has jumped from 262 pages in plain language to 1,502 page in legislative language. Ezra Klein does a good job of explaining why the bill is so long:

…writing laws is not like writing blog posts, or newspaper articles: It requires an archaic, clunky vernacular that spends a lot of time explaining how one piece of text amends another piece of text, and expends a lot of words clarifying the most technical matters at the most granular level. Legal language requires more words than plain English, just as Chinese uses more characters. When people complain that legislation is slightly longer than a very long book, they’re saying something about their understanding of the difference between legal language and plain English, not about the law in question.

This is perfectly true and important to note. Bills that cover a giant issue like health care reform are bound to really long. This is still no excuse for Congress to not read or review the contents of the legislation (not that Klein is making this argument).

The Finance Committee’s original, plain language bill version did a decent job covering the major parts of the legislation. I don’t think any reasonable person is going to be surprised by the insurance mandates or Medicare waste reduction or, if it’s included, a version of the public option. These pieces have been debated and read over and over again. What should be most concerning are the provisions that no one is talking about, the enticements inserted for specific states or specific industries that fly under the radar.

Bloomberg reports on some of these enticements in a report today. Increased Medicaid funding for Sen. Harry Reid’s Nevada, extra money for Medicare Advantage recipients in Sen. Bill Nelson’s Florida and Sen. Ron Wyden’s Oregon, breaks for unions and high risk workers (miners). These are just a few of the enticements inserted into the bill in obscure legislative jargon. We aren’t sure what other nuggets could be out there.

The final bill should be made available for at least 72 hours prior to consideration so that these provisions can be found out and determined if they are harmful or not. There have been too many instances of bills passing in the past with small provisions slipped in that have a large effect.