So Let it be Written, So Let it be Done!

August 14, 2009

On Death Panels, Health Care Reform, and all that Brouhaha

Filed under: kamakula,politics — kamakula @ 9:41 pm

Part of the reason the death panels and other nonsense around congressional legislation is able to flourish is because bills tend to be huge complicated documents written in legal terms that the average person has a hard time understanding from a casual read.

So, when someone else gives what sounds like an analysis after claiming THEY read the proposed legislation, it can be easy to believe. Especially when Republican elected officials who should know better do nothing to debunk any stupid myths floating out there.

Many are wondering why doesn’t Congress write these things quite simply (say, 10 pages or less) in easy to understand language. Well, they can’t. Though some of us think we know how the legislative process works, I don’t think most really know what legislation really needs to accomplish.

Some quick points. We cannot just pass a law that says everyone should have insurance. We have to detail who, when, where, and how. We need to explain who pays for it, who makes sure that everyone is ensured, how we actually educate people that they need to fill out forms to get insurance. We need to close loop holes that insurance companies use to deny coverage, write specific laws that protect teaching hospitals in NJ which can be quite different from legislation needed for teaching hospitals in WA.

Ensuring that everyone has affordable health insurance that is available WHEN they NEED it is not as simple as ensuring everyone has insurance. There are plenty of people who have insurance, pay premiums, then get diagnosed with cancer and discover their insurance doesn’t cover it.

Part of the issue is that our laws are interpreted by exactly what the writers intended, and not the spirit of the law. Even after abolition, blacks were still treated as second class citizens. Despite the fact that our founding documents recognize that all persons are created equally. And even if we allow that prior to the 13th amendment, US law did not recognize blacks as complete persons, from that point all, that technicality no longer existed. Yet, instead of obeying the spirit of the law (the constitution and bill of rights), it took (and is still taking) over 140 years of struggle for minorities to achieve some semblance of equality.

There are lots of other examples, did we really need a court case to establish miranda rights? Do we really need court cases to adapt copyright laws to the digital age? We shouldn’t unless we interpret laws strictly to apply in the manner that they were written, instead of recognizing they should adapt to our current times and reality.

The other thing is specificity. Our laws, as much as some would like to claim are based on the ten commandments. . . they are not the ten commandments. Thou shall not kill. Pretty simple right? No exclusions there. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how or why you kill someone, you are in violation of that commandment. Yet we have 1st, 2nd, 3rd degree murder. We have grand and petty larceny. I list those to illustrate that our laws are written to prohibit or enforce specific directives.

We don’t enforce a thou shall not kill or thou shall not steal directive. Arguably, we can’t. Certainly, we live in a world where these things are not simply black or white, there is a lot of gray involved. So we write laws. Laws that define what is black, and levels of punishment depending on gray level.

Similarly, like it or not, health care bills are written this way. We cannot really enforce a law that says, “you cannot cheat your customer”, one could always argue that is too vague or what you did isn’t really cheating? Remember the smart ass in school who would try and talk the teacher out of why what he did really wasn’t wrong but right? Our system works with laws that criminalize specific -very specific behavior. And as such, our congresspeople, in order to ensure that their goals are met, must write legislation that is complete and includes all of these minutia.

The final things is that crafting such legislation is akin to having to specify the complete design of a car. Not only the design and all supporting safety and other documentation, but you must also specify where the car will be built, where the parts come from, how it will be paid for, how it will be marketed.

You can imagine if we had public debate on design specifications, someone could cause trouble by claiming some subsection included a provision that allows honda to forcibly restrain your baby in the back seat of a car which could kill them if the car got too hot. Ridiculous statements that can be taken out of context or flat out lied about if the general public is unable to parse the language the specifications are written and thus must rely on someone else who they trust to explain it to them.

Let’s be careful.


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