Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good Reporting

Excellent idea from TNR's Jonathan Cohn. He's put together a solid panel of experts (academics Jacob Hacker and David Cutler, budget & policy expert Robert Greenstein, economist Henry Aaron, the SEIU's Andy Stern, etc.) to rate each of the health plans out there right now. Basically, he's trying to rate them on Obama's own terms, rather than on some ideal scale -- the question is whether the bills would actually achieve the president's stated goals. Each bill gets rated on security, cost, and quality, and then put on a 10-point "Truman" scale. He kicks it off with the Baucus mark, which gets a 6.1.

Best promised feature: he's going to have the panel also rate the status quo.

Biggest drawback: because he's deliberately stacked the thing in favor of Obama's general approach, he won't be able to rate Republican substitutes or, for that matter, single-payer alternatives. If he winds up doing that anyway, I'd suggest taking the results with an extra grain of salt.

My suggestion: he should have included a fourth factor indicating how adaptable the bills would be to future changes. There's a big difference, for example, between something that could be improved through the appropriations process and something that would require establishing new agencies to fix what's wrong.

Now, granted, you're going to be better off studying the plans carefully if you really want to understand them, and barring that you're going to be better off studying what Cohn and Ezra Klein and the other wonks say about the plans than just relying on Cohn's magic number. But since most of us aren't going to do that but still would like to be able to compare, say, the HELP bill and the Baucus mark, I'm all in favor of this sort of thing. Good gimmick, Jonathan Cohn!

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