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Shocker: Big New Health Care Study Proves Everyone Right


A new study on the efficacy of Medicaid has all sides running the spin machine overtime. On Wednesday, The New England Journal of Medicine released a report comparing the health outcomes of thousands of Medicaid patients in Oregon to an identical group in the state who didn’t receive Medicaid. The study found…well, it depends on who you ask. The NYT reports the basic facts:

It found that those who gained Medicaid coverage spent more on health care, making more visits to doctors and trips to the hospital. But the study suggests that Medicaid coverage did not make those adults much healthier, at least within the two-year time frame of the research, judging by their blood pressure, blood sugar and other measures. It did, however, substantially reduce the incidence of depression, and it made them vastly more financially secure.

But what these facts mean, or whether this is even an accurate picture of the facts, is disputed by nearly everyone.

If you ask the Cato Institute, the study proves that the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion is profoundly wrongheaded. In his post “Oregon Study Throws a Stop Sign in Front of ObamaCare’s Medicaid Expansion” Michael Cannon argues that “There is no way to spin these results as anything but a rebuke to those who are pushing states to expand Medicaid.”

If you ask The New Republic, the study is a decisive refutation of the Republican Party’s obstinacy on Medicaid expansion. Jonathan Cohn’s post “The New Study that Republicans Who Reject Medicaid Must Read” states that “the big news is that Medicaid virtually wiped out crippling medical expenses among the poor.”

If you ask Slate, the study tells us nothing at all. Matt Yglesias writes, “The Medicaid study hasn’t changed the political views of anyone I know, and it shouldn’t change yours either.” We would expect nothing less from the site that brought us #slatepitches.

This Rashomon-style retelling of the study’s findings is a good illustration of the dangers of wonkery. Dressing up ideology in empirical garb has long been the chief profession our wonky pundit class. But it’s occasionally entertaining to step back and look at just how silly the practice has gotten. Much better for the press to admit its biases (as we argued here, when discussing the Kochs’ moving into journalism) and openly work from first principles than for it to use “facts” to pretend it is objective.

In the meantime, all we have to do is wait for the next big piece of health care news that will prove everyone right.

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  • circleglider

    Two of the core principles of scientific research are that it must be empirical and replicable. The vast majority of social science is neither. The recent New York Times Magazine story about Diederik Stapel offers a damning case study on how easy it is to commit fraud when results can’t be independently verified.

    The vast majority of social science simply isn’t science. It is far closer to informed opinion. Public policy should not afford it any special significance simply because it masquerades as real science.

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