I was dying to make a reference to the Jane Curtin-Dan Akroyd point/counterpoint catchphrase in commenting on yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, but after hardly anyone on the staff recognized the reference when I used it at a staff meeting a few weeks ago, I’ll refrain here. Even fewer remembered the Shana Alexander/James J. Kilpatrick debates used as the model.
Yesterday’s WSJ featured a classic he-said, she-said on Massachusetts health reform. The affirmative side, A Great Success, was taken by Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayer’s Foundation. Mike appropriately starts off his piece with “Facts are a stubborn thing.” He then runs down the unquestionable positive impacts of health reform, using real facts and figures:
- coverage increased by over 400,000, with the uninsurance rate down to 2.6%
- “the incremental cost to taxpayers has been modest and consistent with projections, an average increase of $88 million each year from fiscal 2006 to 2010, out of a state budget of about $30 billion”
- “employer-sponsored enrollment has grown by 100,000 since health reform was adopted, during a recession in which total state employment has declined by 100,000”
- “the number of individuals who have purchased insurance in the private market has more than doubled—to 86,000 from 40,000”
- “uncompensated care fell 38% during the first six months of 2008,”
- “employers supported reform by almost a two-to-one margin in a 2008 poll”
Mike describes individuals whose lives were dramatically improved due to health reform, and questions the critics: “the overwhelming success of the effort in our state makes a compelling statement that national reform can succeed. One wonders why critics have been so zealous in distorting the facts to “prove” that the Massachusetts reform is a failure. This is not some theoretical discussion but a real achievement and lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts citizens.”
On the other side is Grace-Marie Turner, who titles her piece, “Costs Keep Rising.” Turner heads an the Galen Institute, a far-right policy center funded almost exclusively by the pharmaceutical and medical industries. For example, their 2007 IRS filing (see page 23) shows $1 million coming from Pfizer, and large donations from Aetna, Eli Lilly, Phrma, Aventis Pharmaceutical, Amgen biotech, and GlaxoSmith Kline.
Turner hammers at the high health costs in Massachusetts, ignoring the fact that everything is more expensive in Massachusetts, and that our plans here are on average much more generous than those in other states. She cites a smattering of other problems, like continued use of emergency rooms for non-urgent care, problems with fair share compliance, or funding difficulties at safety net hospitals. None of these issues affect the core of Widmer’s solid argument.
By the way, Turner didn’t need any evidence to convince her that Massachusetts health reform is a failure. She argued against the plan in October 2006, before much the law even began implementation.
On the other hand, Widmer’s Taxpayers Foundation is fiercely independent, and uses detailed fact-based inquiry as the starting point for their analysis.
The Wall Street Journal has been a strident opponent of Massachusetts health reform from the start. The juxtaposition of Mike Widmer’s solid analysis with some tendentious arguments by an ideologue shows the sorry state of their opposition.