Obamacare’s Complexity is Not Designed to Fool People

Obamacare’s complexity is really driven by the complexity of our present health care system—and the preferences of the American people

In a fantastic piece Megan McArdle exhorted journalists, who need both expert knowledge and insider connections to do their job, to nonetheless represent their non-expert, outsider readers. Taking Grubergate as her ostensible peg,  she listed various Affordable Care Act complexities that are meant to hide what’s really going on. For example, we have the Cadillac tax, rather than just limits on the tax subsidy to employer-provided insurance.

But McArdle goes wrong when she claims that deliberate attempts to obscure are the main drivers of Obamacare’s complexity:

“Obamacare was designed—as many laws now are—to exploit [ordinary people’s] lack of understanding.  It is huge and complex for a reason, and that reason is that this complexity is an effective thicket in which to hide what you are doing.”

The desire to obscure, though real, is only responsible for a tiny share of Obamacare’s complexity. The dominant cause is the complexity of our pre-ACA health care system. The second main cause is giving Americans what they want from health care—like the lowest possible cost to government. That’s really the opposite of what McArdle claims.

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What Kristof and His Critics Missed: Journalism’s Obsession with Newness Helps Keep Academics Obscure—Or Why Ezra Klein is Even More Right

Nicholas Kristof ignited fierce protests—and enthusiastic support—by saying that most academics “don’t matter in today’s great debates,” because they (we!) write dreadfully and in obscure journals, rather than for broad audiences. Both Kristof and his critics got a lot right. But they focused on what academics and academia do wrong and right, missing what journalism does to make the problem worse.

Coincidentally, only weeks earlier Ezra Klein, a fantastic wonky journalist, articulated journalism’s problem, explaining why it drove him to start a new journalistic enterprise:

New information is not always — and perhaps not even usually — the most important information for understanding a topic… Today, we are better than ever at telling people what’s happening, but not nearly good enough at giving them the crucial contextual information necessary to understand what’s happened. We treat the emphasis on the newness of information as an important virtue rather than a painful compromise.

Journalistic outlets today provide news, not what Jay Rosen describes as helping “us grasp the stories we care deeply about.” Why does journalism’s obsession with newness hinder academics trying to reach broad audiences? Continue reading