Game on

Like many sporting enthusiasts, including President Obama, I filled out my bracket early last week.

It’s been a long season, and in the end my pick to win it all was the same team I had picked in the preseason. But because I had seen them enter the year as a heavy favorite, stumble out of the gate, recover their balance, then hit a long losing streak before getting hot just before the regular schedule ended, I entered the final days hopeful, yet wary.

I’ve seen the Democrats screw up tasks far less challenging than health care.

Wait a second. That was too easy. A sports metaphor applied to a political battle with the intention of entertaining the reader through use of misdirection.

Let me try that again.

I was hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains a couple days ago in unseasonably warm weather. It was nice to break out the shorts and t-shirt and wend my way up the Santa Ynez trail to Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park.

It wasn’t so nice to wake up the next morning with a bloody thigh where a deer tick, picked up along the trail, had bored his way under my skin, no doubt carrying infectious Lyme disease to my vulnerable nervous system.

All the early symptoms of impending disaster were there. Soreness around the wound where the blood-sucking parasite was munching away, a radiating spiral of red surrounding the spot, headache, joint and muscle pain, drowsiness and, yes, I think my lymph nodes were already starting to swell.

A quick trip to the Internet confirmed my diagnosis and affirmed my notion that I had precious little time to get myself to the doctor for treatment.

Fortunately, I have health insurance and could see a doctor for immediate confirmation of my worst fears. Unfortunately, I have been unemployed for nine months and my federal Cobra coverage will probably run out just before neuro borrelia sends me to the hospital where I can savor a “slowly developing destruction of the nervous system, numbing, partial hearing impairment and the development of dementia.”

Too bad the health care legislation the Democrats are pushing through Congress mostly doesn’t kick in til 2014.

That’s better. I like stories that begin with a personal anecdote. I also like stories with a happy ending, but I suspect even if one is written for this saga not many people will read it. They’ve barely followed the plot to this point.

The health care “debate” seems to have been everything but a debate. It’s been a morality tale of good versus evil, with Che, Mao and Stalin lurking in the shadows. It’s been a soap opera of ever changing fortunes in a sad and scary world. It’s been a sporting contest with a never ending supply of subtexts; like a baseball season dominated by talk of steroids, ballplayer bling, egomaniacal owners and financially troubled franchises.

What people generally don’t know and haven’t been discussing among themselves is whether they want this:

Legislation that covers 32 million people. A world in which 95 percent of all non-elderly, legal residents have health-care coverage. An end to insurers rescinding coverage for the sick, or discriminating based on preexisting conditions, or spending 30 cents of each premium dollar on things that aren’t medical care. Exchanges where insurers who want to jack up premiums will have to publicly explain their reason, where regulators will be able to toss them out based on bad behavior, and where consumers will be able to publicly rate them. Hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to help lower-income Americans afford health-care insurance. The final closure of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit’s “doughnut hole.”

The single most ambitious effort the government has ever made to control costs in the health-care sector. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill cuts deficits by $130 billion in the first 10 years, and up to $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years. The excise tax is now indexed to inflation, rather than inflation plus one percentage point, and the subsidies grow more slowly over time. So one of the strongest cost controls just got stronger, and the automatic spending growth slowed. And then there are all the other cost controls in the bill: The Medicare Commission, which makes entitlement reform much more possible. The programs to begin paying doctors and hospitals for care rather than volume. The competitive insurance market.

Ezra Klein

Thousands of hours and millions of words devoted to the subject, yet poll after poll reveals that while people seem to have a visceral feel for the underlying culture war being waged, they haven’t the faintest idea what all the health care noise is about.

Only 15 percent of Americans, for instance, know that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the legislation will decrease the federal budget deficit over the next 10 years. And 55 percent believe the CBO has said the legislation will increase the deficit over that period.

Kaiser poll

But just because you don’t know how to play seven-card Texas hold ’em doesn’t mean you can’t go to Las Vegas and place your bet. As long as you can pull the lever on the slot machine, or punch the chad on your ballot, you can play the game.

So now is your last chance to step up to the table and put your money where your mouth is. The vote is two days away and the betting line at Intrade, the Prediction Market says health care passage is a slam dunk.