When Health-Care Reform Stops Being Polite and Starts Making Charts
Whoever is heading the Scary Flowcharts Division of John Boehner's office is quickly becoming my favorite person in Washington. A few weeks ago, we got this terror-inducing visualization of the process behind "Speaker Pelosi's National Energy Tax." Only problem: It didn't describe a process. Or explain what five of the nine colors referred to. Or make sense. As you might expect, the chart vanished without a trace.
Today, Boehner's office cranked out the gem I've copied above (click on it for a larger version). It's certainly better than the "Energy Tax" effort. This one, for instance, has some graphic design on it. (The other looked like a proud product of Microsoft Paint.) The problem is that it'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.
There are four arrows, for instance, pointing at the bright and happy pencil outline of "Consumers." Given that consumers -- which is the Republican word for "people" -- are the intended target of the chart, we'll focus there. The first arrow shoots out from "health insurance plans," which makes sense given that consumers buy such things. Then comes the low-income subsidy, which makes sense given that consumers will benefit from that help. Then health affordability tax credits, which make sense given that consumers want help affording health insurance. And finally, the individual mandate that consumers buy insurance, which makes sense for obvious reasons.
And that, pretty much, is as scary as Boehner's chart guy can make this plan look for the average American. Consumers will have to purchase health-care coverage and will be given financial help to make sure they can afford it. It's about as creepy as your mom telling you to eat lunch and handing you a crumpled $5 before you board the bus in the morning.
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. All in all, a less than intimidating outing from the minority leader's office.
But charts are infectious. Democrats, for instance, quickly responded to Boehner's chart with one of their own:
The New Republic, meanwhile, went ahead and made a chart of the current health-care system (click on it for a larger version):
The real takeaway of all of this is that I could create a flowchart of my lunch at Spice Express that made the whole thing look byzantine. But this stuff doesn't work unless it's building on an underlying reality. When Bob Dole brought out his famous organization chart of the Clinton plan in 1994, it played on a genuine problem with the plan: Very few people understood it. And very few people understood it because "managed care inside of managed competition" was something new and unfamiliar.
But this plan? You basically keep the health insurance your employer is giving you now, and if your employer isn't giving you health insurance now, then the government helps you shoulder the expense and lays down some new rules so insurers can't screw you over. It's not particularly complicated. In some ways, that makes it a worse bill on the merits, but it also protects it against flowcharts.