Jonathan Gruber doesn’t have a secret identify. He neither possesses X-ray vision nor can he turn into a human torch. His unique gift is the ability to explain in plain language the complexities of health-care reform and what it means to the average citizen and business owner. Gruber, who advised the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act and was a key architect of Massachusetts’s health-care reform, has done just that with his book, Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works, and an illustrated video on the benefits of reform.
In an e-mail exchange with Bloomberg Businessweek editor Ira Sager, professor Gruber discusses why he took to the comic book format, what could happen if Obamacare is revoked, and what super power he wishes he did possess.
How did you get the idea to tackle such a complex topic in comic book form?
The publisher approached me and I was initially skeptical. But he pointed out that on an airplane, when they want to teach you something important in a hurry, they hand you a comic. I was sold.
Why is health-care reform important?
Because we have twin crises of a high and rising uninsurance rate and an unsustainable growth rate in health-care costs. The former has huge costs in terms of health and financial bankruptcy. The latter will eventually bankrupt our society.
Why do you believe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will solve our health-care issues?
Because it fixes broken insurance markets to guarantee fairly priced coverage—leading to 32 million more insured Americans—and because it starts us down the path toward cost control through a number of innovative approaches.
What consequences would we face if this legislation is repealed?
Millions more uninsured Americans, a continued discriminatory insurance market, and no start on controlling health-care costs
Critics of the Affordable Care Act say it doesn’t address health-care costs. Is that perception correct?
It is important to recognize how hard this issue is—there is both enormous scientific uncertainty and a lack of political will to change. Given those constraints, the ACA goes as far as was possible at this time (and perhaps even farther).
What’s the most common misperception of the legislation?
That it is “socialized medicine.” In fact, this approach builds on—and greatly expands—the private health insurance system.
Is Mitt Romney making a mistake by distancing himself from what he did in Massachusetts?
We’ll find out in November, if not sooner. I think he was in a very tough position. He could have denied any credit for the only major accomplishment he had as a policy maker, or he could have embraced his achievement—which would have cost him the nomination—or he could try this bizarre dance of taking credit for the accomplishment but denying it will work for Obama. It’s not clear what was best in the end, given the constraints he faced.
As a child, did you read comic books?
Yes, way too many.
Who was your favorite comic book hero—or is there one you most associate with?
I don’t associate with any, but my favorite was Daredevil, the blind, costumed avenger. I have always enjoyed rooting for the underdog.
If you could have one super power, what would it be?
The ability to control time—to stop it or speed it up at will.