In any of the various places online where I am likely to engage in heated discussions with my fellow nerds, geeks, eggheads and policy wonks, I have seen the following situation too many times to count: Friend A posts a link to an article written by, say, Sarah Palin. Friend B, an ardent detractor of Palin, immediately sounds off on the idiocy of her argument without having read what Palin wrote. Friend C, noting that Friend B might have jumped the gun a little, advises everyone to RTFM (Read the Freaking Manual) before commenting on it. In other words, know what you’re criticizing. For all Friend B knows, Palin’s article could have been about how awesome it is to wrap oneself in a warm blanket straight out of the dryer. You see this most often in places like Facebook or news aggregation sites where people can simultaneously post a news story and an editorial comment about it at the same time, which has a funny way of kickstarting conversations off in the wrong direction. That’s the internet for you, I guess.
I bring all of this up because this month I have begun to make good on a promise I made to read the entirety of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, all 906 pages of it. When I mentioned to my friends I was doing this, they responded with a mixture of shock, awe and pity. Why would I ever subject myself to such a horrible ordeal? It would, as somebody pointed out, be like being a character in an H.P. Lovecraft novel, in which every piece of hidden information one uncovers comes at the cost of one’s sanity.
The reason for it is because, as you all know, PPACA is one of the most important pieces of legislation to this industry in living memory. At best, it is the kind of thing that will cause immense turmoil just in its implementation, which will take every drop of time between now and 2014, and that’s even if all the contradictory elements and vagaries are ironed out in short order (which I seriously doubt). At worst, the law will cause the kind of damage to the industry normally reserved for a medium-sized asteroid strike. Either way, it would behoove me to know what the damned thing actually says.
Oh, I have read summaries and analyses of it, just like every Congressional staffer, who then gives summaries of that to the Representative or Senator he or she works for. But it bugs me that so many important decisions are being made on this based on the thinnest understanding of the law itself. Even if the law is defunded in Congress (entirely possible), repealed (unlikely) or successfully overthrown in court (also unlikely, as the Supreme Court tends not to overturn that which was implemented by Congress), I think that I owe it to my readership to RTFM. National Underwriter has no editorial agenda to push on this legislation (nor should it), except to report on it as intelligently and as objectively as we can.
And so I begin. The first thing I noticed was that the Table of Contents ran a mind-boggling 12 pages long. I only made it nine pages in before I was compelled to post on Facebook that I hoped God would have mercy on my soul, because the federal government certainly would not. Hopefully by the time the next issue of National Underwriter comes out I’ll have a review for you. But if my editorial page is nothing but a hundred lines of the letter Z, you’ll know why.