Legal journalist Steven Brill has a new book out. You may have heard something about it; there’s been extensive coverage of it in the last week or so. It’s called America’s Bitter Pill, a narrative containing a massive set of interviews (>200) with players involved in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
The book’s subtitle, “Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System,” gives you an inkling of his attitude. Brill wrote the book as an outgrowth of a major piece he reported for good ol’ Time magazine in 2013, an article to which the entire issue was devoted. Brill’s Time piece was successful — it got people talking, won a magazine award, and put the term “chargemaster” into our vernacular.
Brill can be acerbic, both in his writing and in interviews. His candor is refreshing. Critics of the new book charge Brill with misinterpreting the significance of some of the statements made by his interview subjects, and for offering flawed policy recommendations based on his reporting.
Nevertheless, what makes “Bitter Pill” special is the fact that Brill himself underwent a major health care scare and lived to tell about it in poignant and funny detail. He had an aortic aneurysm that required open heart surgery, a nearly $200,000 operation. His insurance paid 90% of the cost, but his discussion of the numerous insurance statements (“Explanations of Benefits,” known as EOBs) he received is hilarious. And he gets a rare opportunity: When interviewing the CEO of United Health, the largest private US health insurer [also his insurer], he gets to pull a totally illogical EOB out of his pocket and confront the CEO with it.
Behold: Mr. CEO can’t interpret it, either.