Gruber Cherry-Picks the Evidence for RomneyCare

July 12, 2011
67 Views

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber touts the Massachusetts health plan, which he helped create, in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (the Washington Post provides a summary). So how objective can you be when you are grading your own work? Apparently not very.

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber touts the Massachusetts health plan, which he helped create, in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (the Washington Post provides a summary). So how objective can you be when you are grading your own work? Apparently not very. In reviewing the literature, Gruber carefully cherry-picked positive data, while ignoring everything that didn’t fit the story he apparently wants to tell:

  • Gruber relies on an article in Health Affairs showing a slight increase in primary care visits, but neglects to inform readers that there had been no significant change in specialty care visits. And while using the study to imply that access to care has improved as a result of the reform, he neglects to mention that there has been no apparent change in self-reported unmet needs. Remarkably, one-third of adults within 300% of the federal poverty level report that they were unable to meet a health care need within the past 12 months for “any reason.”
  • He also fails to inform the reader that the same Health Affairs article shows no change in overall emergency room (ER) visits, but a statistically significant increase in ER traffic among those within 300% of the federal poverty level! This is consistent with a survey of 11 Massachusetts-area hospitals that found ER use rose four percent. Instead, Gruber cites an unpublished whitepaper claiming a modest reduction in ER use.
  • Gruber cites a Massachusetts Medical Society survey finding that average wait times to see physicians were basically unchanged. But he doesn’t say how long those wait times are: New patients must wait from a month to six weeks to see a family doctor or an internist. Make that two months in Boston for a family practitioner. Gruber also finds it too uninteresting to mention that the same survey found about half of all family doctors and internists won’t see new patients or accept the insurance provided in the Commonwealth Connector. This was up sharply from 2006.

Austin Frakt (who prides himself on faithfulness to the evidence) republished Gruber’s one-sided account without asking a single skeptical question. David Henderson was more critical, pointing out that Gruber was a paid consultant to the White House to help develop ObamaCare.

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