Competing charts

COMPETING CHARTS…. Back in July, the House Republican caucus put together a chart that was supposed to characterize the proposed reforms to the health care system as overwhelmingly complex. As mini-stunts go, it failed rather spectacularly — it only offered reform advocates a chance to point out how complex the status quo is. For that matter, the underlying argument was fundamentally lazy — to hear Boehner & Co. tell it, we can’t reform the system because the solution doesn’t fit nicely on a chart. But that’s not an argument. It’s barely even a chart.


But House Republicans are back with another chart, this one incorporating the old one and adding a bunch of additional boxes. “This is the blueprint for a taxpayer-funded mega-bureaucracy,” House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

But it’s really not. This new chart simply identifies the names of various offices and efforts that will be part of an improved system. For example, there’s a box for “Outreach program to increase awareness of diabetes screening benefits.” Is that a bad thing? Probably not, but it’s a “government program,” which necessarily makes it part of a “mega-bureaucracy.” There’s also a box pointing to a grant program to “assist veterans who wish to become emergency medical technicians upon discharge.” Are Republicans against this? Why?

The closer one looks at the chart, and reads the descriptions in the little boxes, the more worthwhile the larger initiative seems. As Ezra Klein explained when the first chart came out, “[I]t’s not very scary. In fact, it’s reminiscent of nothing so much as a Magic Eye picture: Stare at the whole thing and it’s a bit bewildering. But focus in, and order reveals itself. And that order actually looks kind of good. Which leaves this chart in a bit of a weird position: Those who don’t read it won’t be able to understand it. And those who do read it won’t be scared by it.”


For its part, the White House released a competing chart this afternoon, which explains the health care reform effort in a more straightforward, less deliberately confusing way.

Health care policy can get pretty complicated, but this makes the policy framework pretty easy to understand. If you’re happy with what you have, you keep it. The only changes are more stable costs and more consumer protections. If you don’t have coverage, you get to pick from an exchange. If you can’t afford a plan, the government will give you a hand.

This probably isn’t what the GOP staffers had in mind, but I think both boxes seem pretty compelling.