NPR’s Marketplace aired an interview with me yesterday about reading statutes and about the Senate health care bill in particular.
Kai Ryssdal: Let me, first of all, ask you how you think about reading these bills. Because you are not a lay person in this field, you have some expertise. So how do you go about it?
Nicholas Bagley: Well, it’s hard. These bills are the latest layers that are added on top of many, many other bills that have come before in the health care space. And so when you read a bill, what you have to do is have all the bills that came before at hand so you understand when they say, “We’re amending subsection A of subparagraph one,” you know what that’s referring to.
I should’ve added that just reading a bill is a pretty terrible way to understand it. Even for experts, the complicated cross-references, hyper-technical language, and mind-numbing boredom of the exercise are serious impediments to understanding.
Far better, instead, to first read plain-language descriptions of what the bill is supposed to do. Once you understand that, then try reading the portions of the bill that you really care about. You’ll be in a much better position to understand how the bill actually does what it claims to do—and how it might fall short.