Time to go read the House version of the health care reform bill.

November 7, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More

It would be irresponsible to take a position on the new House version of the health care bill without reading it, right? Despite the importance and expense of the bill, many national news websites don’t even contain a link to the actual words of the bill.  Therefore, go to this link and read the full text of the bill.  It’s almost 2,000 pages long and it’s loaded with specialized terminology and ambiguities.  To read it, you’ll need to give up many hours of your life.

I’m a lawyer, and I read difficult documents all day at work.  I can guarantee that it would take me more than a week to read this bill and to obtain a thorough understanding of its main provisions.   How many Americans would be willing to read this bill without being required to read it as part of a special healthcare-related job (much less understand it) prior to taking a position on it? Probably only a handful.   Out of almost 300,000,000 Americas, only a few would exert the effort to read the entire thing.  In fact, send in a comment if you are not being paid to read this bill, and  you’ve nonetheless read it on your own just to be an informed citizen.

This House bill will eventually need to be reconciled with a Senate bill, which will be comparable in length and complexity.  Completely responsible people will read both versions and map out the differences.   That could take many weeks, even for those of us who are even able to analyze text at this level.   To really follow this legislation in real time would require one to give up  everything he or she cares about for many weeks.  It means giving up time with one’s family, exercising, entertainment and probably burning vacation time at work. I doubt that it is a rare legislator has read more than 1/4 of this bill.

What does it mean when it takes 2,000 words to put an idea into a law containing numerous vague provisions?   I have become cynical about this process (as you can probably tell).   My presumption is that this bill is representative of many modern pieces of federal legislation (there are many other similarly long and vague federal laws that have been passed over the past couple of decades).  My suspicion is that when a bill is written in lengthy prose that is often vague, it means that it is intentionally written this way to discourage ordinary people from understanding it.  It is written with lots of bells and whistles that will work to the benefit of private businesses.   It is written for those who can afford to hire teams of lawyers who can “work” the law to their advantage in federal courts. Something for everyone who can afford to litigate, it seems, based on the many provisions.

Or would it be more accurate to say that this bill is an attempt to put off for another day the dirty details of who, exactly will be covered, whether those who are being insured by the federal government get the same gold-plated coverage as those who work hard to shell out $1,000/month to insure their families, how much it will really cost to give this kind of coverage to the poor and working poor, who will pay for it in the end and what will we no longer be able to afford as a country given that we are going to be paying a presumably huge sum for health care?  These are the kinds of questions that good and decent people want to know before they make a commitment.

I should make it clear that the current system is terrible in many ways, both for people who are insured and those who aren’t.   We need a new law to keep purchasers of health insurance from getting ripped off by insurers, but this is low-hanging fruit that could be knocked out with a 10-page bill.   We also need to figure out some affordable level of coverage to provide to those who we feel moral compulsions to cover.  I suspect that all of this could be done in far less than 2,000 pages.

Like I mentioned, I’m suspicious about this process, which has proven to be opaque in more ways than one.

Seeing this bill makes me realize how daunting it is for most folks to “get involved” in the government process. No wonder so many people, driven by emotions, give up entirely and insist that living locally can take care of national or global problems. These include many of the “free market fundamentalists,” as well as many others who haven’t quite articulated why they are so reluctant to get involved.


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Category: Health

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's the kind of garbage that is quietly forming the backbone of the new "health care reform":

    The deal struck between the pharmaceutical lobby, the White House and Senate Democrats has drastically improved Big Pharma's expected profits, a private industry report finds.


  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: Bernie Sanders' bill is a legislative breath of fresh air. Consider, too, the U.S. Constitution which, including the Bill of Rights, includes only 9,000 words, which would only be about 36 pages, double-spaced at 12pt font.

  3. Brynn Jacobs says:


    Shocking, who could have anticipated that the largest corporations would win big with any given piece of new legislation?

    I think everyone's aware at this point that special interests are heavily involved in writing the bills, which is why they are so complex and indecipherable. If they didn't have anything to hide then the bills wouldn't need to be so forbidding. Your Constitution example is a case in point. Nothing to hide, it literally sets up the basis for the whole government, and clocks in at 36 pages. Yet tinkering with the health insurance industry goes to 1,990 pages?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: These huge abstruse legislative monsters are essentially dares. The creators are daring regular folks (and members of Congress!) to burn hundreds of their hours each trying to understand this bill so that they can take intelligent positions on the bill. Ain't gonna happen. The complexity of the legislation has (I suspect) outrun the real-life capacity of 99% of the citizens to persevere by reading it. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Just because you read the bill doesn't mean that you are read the bill doesn't mean that you are ready to understand it. That might require becoming an expert in hundreds of other pieces of legislation, as well as becoming savvy about the inner-workings of the health care industry. You might need to spend 5 or 10 years studying the industry and the law in order to intelligently weigh in on this legislation. I suspect that our lawmakers never will come clean to tell us what benefits this law will provide and how much it will really cost–not until AFTER this bill becomes law. My basic questions regarding coverage and cost have not been answered in any understandable and public way.

      BTW, Tim Hogan, who is one of the writers at this site, as well as a lawyer, wrote me to say that he was taking up the gauntlet. He told me two days ago that he was up to page 136 or so, and that he was going to try to make it all the way through the bill. I haven't heard from him since then. My bet would be that Tim got distracted by other endeavors such as spending time with his family . . .

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Marcia Angel, M.D. is highly critical of the proposed "health care reform." Although she admits that it accomplishes a few things, it is worse than doing nothing.

    "It throws more money into a dysfunctional and unsustainable system, with only a few improvements at the edges, and it augments the central role of the investor-owned insurance industry. The danger is that as costs continue to rise and coverage becomes less comprehensive, people will conclude that we've tried health reform and it didn't work. But the real problem will be that we didn't really try it."


    Read this post for Angel's ideas regarding real health care reform. I agree with Angel that the current bill is an industry-coddling joke.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    If you want to read the conference reports regarding major legislation, you'll need to read them rapidly, and there will not be any real-life chance to respond prior to voting by the House. The statistics on this are shocking, according to the Sunlight Foundation. http://blog.sunlightfoundation.com/2009/12/04/ove… :

    Over the years, conference reports have been the biggest offenders in their timely availability for lawmakers and the public to read. Since 1999, nearly 80% of all conference reports were voted on in the House of Representatives without being available for at least 72 hours prior to floor consideration. Conference reports are the product of negotiations between the House and Senate after each chamber has passed different versions of the same bill. These reports contain the various compromises made between the two chambers of Congress.

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