Saturday, July 12, 2014

TFP Column: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 4/24/2014.
At the end of the initial sign up period for the Affordable Healthcare Act, the Administration announced that the program had signed 7.1 million people up for health insurance (8 million in numbers released subsequently) and took their own “Mission Accomplished” victory lap. After all, 7 million was the number that the Non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted would be sold during the initial rollout before even it began, and without discussion as to why, became the benchmark by which both sides measured success.
The right was certainly quick enough to adopt it in the early days, attacking the chances of success after the dismal rollout problems of the web site and the all but epic failure of the federal exchange in the opening months of the sign up period. Subsequent performance, along with the apparent reticence of the government to release numbers on a timely basis, only fueled the confidence of failure in opponents and did little for the morale of supporters.
The left spent just as much time blaming the delays of the initial rollout, if not more, in what some might be considered to be whining attempts to excuse a failure that had yet to occur. Those who continued to assume any air of confidence were made out to be dreamers and losers who refused to face reality.
State Exchanges didn't do all that much to help the situation. While those in New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Washington prospered; websites in Hawaii, Oregon, Maryland, and Vermont fared dismally. The general consensus of those tracking the numbers was that reaching the CBO goal was simply never going to happen.
As the deadline approached, Jay Carney and Kathleen Sebelius put the best face possible on the situation, but prepared us for the worst. The web site was better, traffic was improving, and people were getting insurance, so 'the number' wasn't as important in measuring success of the law.
Once victory had been declared however, the tune changed again. It was all about the number and nothing else. Sure, some still wanted to dispute the accuracy of the numbers released by the Administration, (I know, how could anyone fail to trust numbers released by the federal government?) but they were little more than malcontents.
In spite of the fact that the US Electorate largely has the attention span of a 5 year-old where the details of any story is concerned, these pundits and naysayers still attempt to contest the victory by disputing whether payment has been made (or will continue to be), whether those signing up were those whose insurance was canceled as a result of the law or previously uninsured, or the health and age of those who signed up. Interesting questions perhaps, but only to those tracking statistics in the government fantasy league.
But it was what no one was talking about that was interesting. Benjamin Disraeli is credited with the quote, “There are three types of lies … lies, damn lies, and statistics. Even the most cursory examination of the latter in this case point to a law with numbers that have largely ignored in favor of the 7 million. Speaking of ignored, if 7 million signed up, more than 22 million this year alone ignored the law and failed to sign up. What's more, the same CBO whose numbers awarded the victory to the ACA has now projected numbers going out into the year 2023. They tell us that going out those ten years, there will still be over 31 million people who still won't have health insurance.
If these numbers victory then, perhaps it can only be considered a Pyrrhic one. For those unfamiliar with the term, it comes from Greek King Pyrrhus who in victories over the Romans (280 and 279 BC) suffered such devastating troop losses in his victories that they were little better than defeat.
Then again, perhaps the 'statistics' reported on the ACA and the 'victory' declared by the current Administration require more than simple analysis. Perhaps they require the popular perspective inspired by George Lucas from “Star Wars” (from Episode VI, for the nitpickers); and that the victory declared is true, “... from a certain point of view”.

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