A Healthy Dose Of Info
This is the whole post over at Beat the Press.
To paraphrase my friend Brad DeLong, “why oh why do newspapers have to use meaningless numbers when it is so easy to provide information.” Today’s example is a Washington Post article about a new rule that requires people to show proof of citizenship before they can be covered by Medicaid.
The article includes much useful information and comments from both proponents and opponents of the rule. Then it tells us that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that this rule will save Medicaid $735 million over the next decade.
Great – everyone realize how much money that is? Okay, we know the Washington Post has an educated readership, but virtually none of their readers has any idea how important $735 million over the next decade is to the budget or their pocketbooks.
Let’s suppose the reporters had taken a moment to look at projected spending for this period. CBO projects total spending over the next decade at $33.3 trillion, or approximately $111,000 per person. The potential savings from the tighter Medicare rules comes to approximately $2.50 per person, or 0.002 percent of projected spending over the next decade. In other words, the potential savings will have no visible impact on the budget, the deficit or the public’s tax burden.
My guess is that most people who read the Post article do not recognize this fact. If the spending figure had been expressed as a share of the budget or a per person cost, readers would know this hugely important part of the story. What do newspapers have such an aversion to providing information? (Yes, I did blog on this before in reference to an NYT article.)
This is so common we don't even notice. Compare $735 million to the money being wasted on the osprey program.
In 1986 the cost of a single V-22 was estimated at $24 million, with 923 aircraft to be built. In 1989 the Bush administration cancelled the project, at which time the unit cost was estimated at $35 million, with 602 aircraft. The V-22 question caused friction between Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney and Congress throughout his tenure. DoD spent some of the money Congress appropriated to develop the aircraft, but congressional sources accused Cheney, who continued to oppose the Osprey, of violating the law by not moving ahead as Congress had directed. Cheney argued that building and testing the prototype Osprey would cost more than the amount appropriated. In the spring of 1992 several congressional supporters of the V-22 threatened to take Cheney to court over the issue. A little later, in the face of suggestions from congressional Republicans that Cheney's opposition to the Osprey was hurting President Bush's reelection campaign, especially in Texas and Pennsylvania where the aircraft would be built, Cheney relented and suggested spending $1.5 billion in fiscal years 1992 and 1993 to develop it. He made clear that he personally still opposed the Osprey and favored a less costly alternative.
The program was revived by the incoming Clinton administration, and current plans call for building 458 Ospreys for $37.3 billion, or more than $80 million apiece, with the Marines receiving 360 Ospreys, the Navy 48 and the Air Force 50. The first prototype flew in 1989. As of early 2000 three test aircraft had crashed: no one was killed in the 1991 crash, an accident in 1992 killed seven men, and the third in April 2000 killed 19 Marines. [emphasis mine]
Yes, sometimes even Cheney is right and Bill Clinton didn't hang the moon.