Everything you wanted to know about health reform, in one comic book

Do you like comic books with CBO scores, two-headed alligators and health economist superheroes? Then has Jonathan Gruber got a graphic novel for you!


That’s a page from Gruber’s forthcoming comic book, “Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works.” And what this speech-bubble resume doesn’t mention is Gruber’s extensive health reform work: The MIT economist was a key player on both the Massachusetts and national health overhauls. Inspired by his three children, Gruber has distilled all that experience into a 152-page comic book. The graphic novel won’t be out till early next year, but we here at Wonkblog have been flipping through an advance copy.

Gruber does a pretty fantastic job translating complex policies into comic-book form. A two-headed alligator represents the twin health menaces of “rising costs” and “the number of uninsured.” Health reform’s high-risk pools become swimming pools; the superhero version of Jonathan spends a decent amount of time warding off rumors of death panels and government health-care takeovers, in the form of zombies and vampires. The Congressional Budget Office makes multiple appearances. The graphic novel feels like John McDonough’s inside-the-room account of the Affordable Care Act, “Inside National Health Reform,” put to pictures.

Will the comic book win over the hearts and minds of any health reform opponents? Probably not. It’s no surprise that Gruber supports the health reform law and believes it will work; he helped write it. Those who disagree with the law won’t have their policy gripes dressed in graphic novel form.

But even when you use zombies, alligators and a health economist superhero, health policy is tough stuff. It takes Gruber 152 pages and 12 chapters to get through it. Although this book is a lot more digestible than tackling the health reform law in its entirety, it’s still more complex, and slower-moving, than your standard Superman adventure. But Gruber should get some slack: Superman never had to tackle cost curves and CBO scores.

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