It is often said that journalism is the first draft of history. Indeed, when journalists do the legwork to uncover the story of how a major event unfolded or a troublesome problem developed, their writings can be important raw material for the historians who come along later. By itself, however, it is not history, since each journalist will see only part of the story. But put together, the output of the many journalists who cover an important story can go a long way to illuminating a complicated tale.

There is no more complicated—nor arguably, more important—part of the US economy than the health care system, and it has provided the subject for much good journalism. Over the years, it developed in ways that both expanded its promise (by, for example, doing the science that produced new cures for scary diseases) and limited...

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