Reports that Medicaid is no good and that it’s highly effective: We’ve often cited a famous old joke allegedly known as Goldberg’s Law:
“The man with one watch always knows the time. The man with two watches is never quite sure.”
We often think of that joke when we read different reports about some event in our nation’s newspapers. You always think you know what occurred—until you read the second newspaper.
Last Thursday, Annie Lowrey managed to enact Goldberg’s Law all by herself! She did so in the third and fourth paragraphs of an important news report in the New York Times.
Lowrey was reporting on the Oregon Health Study, which “compares thousands of low-income people in Oregon who received access to Medicaid with an identical population that did not.” What did this study determine?
According to Lowrey, the study found that Medicaid is no damn good. And that the program’s fantastic:
LOWREY (5/2/13): [The study] 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.Say what? In that first paragraph, Lowrey says “the study suggests that Medicaid coverage did not make those adults much healthier.” But hold on!
“There was this view that Medicaid coverage would not do much for the low-income uninsured, either because they had access to charity care or because Medicaid is not good insurance,” said Amy Finkelstein of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This rejects that notion entirely.” Her work on the Oregon study contributed to her receipt last year of the John Bates Clark Medal, a laurel for younger economists considered second only to the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science for those in the profession.
In her very next paragraph, Lowrey quotes an economist who won a prestigious award for her work on the Oregon study. This economist says the study “entirely rejects the notion” that Medicaid coverage “would not do much for the low-income uninsured.”
Do you have any earthly idea how those passages go together? If the study suggests that Medicaid coverage did not make those adults much healthier, why in the world would Finkelstein be making such rapturous statements?
We don’t know how to answer that question, mainly because we’ve read Lowrey’s report. At no point does she seem to notice the contradiction between those paragraphs, the third and fourth in her report.
Who knows? Maybe Lowrey’s editor managed to botch this important report. It may be that Lowrey herself produced flawless copy!
But that is truly ridiculous work. It’s par for the course at the Times!
Tomorrow, we’re going to look at another part of this report—the passage where Lowrey tries to give more detail about the health outcomes to which she refers in that opening passage. Among the people who received Medicaid coverage, what did happen to “blood pressure, blood sugar and other measures?”
When Lowrey tries to go into detail, her work strikes us as flatly incompetent.
Lowrey is young and rather unimpressive. We still don’t know why she’s writing important front-page economic reports for our supposedly smartest newspaper.
In fairness, she does have a marvelous social background. At the Times, is that enough?
At any rate, go ahead—read that news report’s first four paragraphs! Have you ever seen Goldberg’s Law enacted quite so fast?
Concerning the name of that old joke: We believe we were told about “Goldberg’s Law” by a well-known comedian-actor two or three decades ago.
We believed him when he described and named the old joke, although we’ve never been able to locate this “law” using the power of Google.