Monday, August 29, 2011 3:20 AM

USS Abe Lincoln vs. health reform

Similarities/contrasts between an aircraft carrier and health reform:

Both, chuck full of stuff: The law, more than 2,000 pages with thousands more pages of exemptions, explanations, gobblydegook yet to be written. The USS Abraham Lincoln, daily consumption facts in a city of 4,500 (think a very large city of Fowler) -- 250 haircuts, 15,000-20,000 meals, 13,000 sodas, 600 gallons milk, 620 pounds of hamburger, 900 pounds of fruit, 180 dozen eggs.

Timing matters: The Lincoln, can launch four F-18s per minute and catch one every 17 seconds. Sailors can be deployed at sea sometimes 200 days of the year. After 45 straight days away from home port, all sailors ages 21 and older may be authorized to have up to two beers (a one-time "beer day") as long as they're not standing watch or flying. The reform law, will play out until 2019 with the key years being 2014 and 2015 -- actually, the hallmark year may be 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court may consider whether its contents are constitutional.

Details, details: The Lincoln, yes, the sailors polish brass and paint bulkheads. Some sleep in areas that berth 60 or more. They also live on 4.5 acres in which bombs are in close proximity to nuclear reactors. The law, can you imagine how many lawyers, accountants and bureaucrats of every stripe have been called upon to word nuzzle and dollar weasel this into passable form (note, I did not say sustainable or enduring form)?  How many Me 'n' Eds/ Diet Cokes were ferried into a meeting rooms for endless all-nighters to disgorge the most mammoth overhaul of health care in 45 years (that may or may not be bomb proof)?

Great names: The Lincoln, calls its specialty coffee shop "Jittery Abe's." The two-berth cabin I shared with a Red Sox fan was named "Little Pigeon Creek" (have no idea why). CVN72, the Lincoln's name and place in construction order of the Nimitz class, indicates "carrier vessel nuclear." And it gained some notoriety during the Iraq war when President George Bush came aboard under the sign "Mission Accomplished." The law, also known as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and ObamaCare.

Key words at key times: What those serving aboard the Lincoln heard regularly from me and 14 others aboard as part of the Navy's Distinguished Visitors Program: "Thank you for your service." As to the law, stay tuned. What those on the Lincoln regularly told us, despite jocular references to "Top Gun," life on ship is not like any movie. As to health reform, can't imagine what kind of flick some devious YouTuber might make.

Risk, reward, the unknown: The Lincoln, some pilots from Lemoore Naval Air Station were making nighttime qualifying landings -- which came to a halt when one of the four landing wires designed to catch them "was found" to be missing. The health reform law, even if all its myriad wires are in the right place, is laden with potential unintended consequences, stuff nobody thought of, even as the good occurs (bad care models, practitioners go away; pre-existing conditions get covered) along with the bad (not enough medical providers to treat all the suddenly, newly insured.)

It's always about the money: Health reform, depending on who's doing the figuring, will save billions, cost trillions, bankrupt some, thrust riches on others. The Lincoln, cost about $4.5 billion to construct and will soon have a $200+ million retrofitting (new nuclear reactors) in Norfolk, VA. (For the record, I forked over $50 cash to cover my shipboard meals, as the Navy requested, as part of the trip of a lifetime.)

(This is the fourth in a series of blogs about my 22-hour August embarkation on the Lincoln in the Pacific 100 miles off San Diego.)