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Pete Kaliner

Science and NC politics

 
Science and NC politics
Posted February 13th, 2014 @ 9:29am

In a piece that deconstructs the assumption that liberals are all about the science while conservatives are not, Andrew Quinn at the Federalist succinctly addresses two lines of attacks that we hear a lot in North Carolina politics:

 

1. The GOP refusal to expand Medicaid shows they hate poor people

The vast majority of Democratic policymakers and sympathetic journalists take it on faith that the good intentions that inspire the program and the vast sums we invest in it add up to something that improves poor people’s lives. When progressives discuss red states’ reluctance to volunteer for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, they almost describe a clear trade-off: Conservatives’ contempt for social assistance and the GOP’s austerity fetish are on one side, and the medical destinies of needy Americans are on the other. Shame on the heartless Scrooge who could possibly prioritize the former!

But leftists rarely pause to interrogate the premise, to actually verify that signing humans up for a complex and convoluted financial product is in fact synonymous with boosting their well-being. It’s hard to fault laypeople for leaning on this commonsensical assumption. But in 2014, every serious student of policy should be aware of the growing evidence that calls it into question.

For decades, a series of studies have raised red flags. Surgery patients, cancer victims, and transplant recipients who were enrolled in the program were all found to fare worse—not merely than privately-insured patients with presumably easier lives, but worse than equally poor people who lacked any insurance at all. This literature was capped off by the landmark “Oregon study,” a brand-new analysis that marshals gold-standard methodology to compare Medicaid recipients with uninsured people.
 
The scholars found mixed results. Medicaid does lower psychological stress and increase financial stability, results we would expect from any transfer program. But the program actually increases unnecessary trips to the emergency room. And remarkably, Medicaid coverage has no measurable impact whatsoever on clinical health.
 
To an intellectually honest observer, these findings compel more questions. What are reasonable expectations for health insurance? Should we be satisfied if Medicaid helps people sleep easier but makes them no healthier? Even if so, is health insurance the most effective way to convert taxpayer dollars into peace of mind for the poor?

Virtually no prominent progressives join center-right commentators in positing such questions.

 

2. The GOP support of school choice and charter schools proves they hate children

... one brand-new report is especially interesting and noteworthy. Last month, experts from Mathematica Policy Research published their analysis of charter schools in Florida and Chicago. Whereas most research stops at rates of high school graduation and college admission, their data continues tracking students through their college years and into their careers.

What they found is fascinating. First, attending a charter instead of a public high school made students significantly likelier to graduate and to enter college. This much is old news to education scholars, although you wouldn’t know it from listening to the left. Next, the scholars uncovered new evidence that charter students are meaningfully more likely to stick with college for more than two years. And most interesting of all, the study found that school choice yields significantly higher earnings later in life: Charter graduates earn roughly 13% more money in their mid-twenties than comparable alumni of public high schools.
 
The study’s conclusion? Precisely how charters produce these improvements remains “an open question,” but the end result really doesn’t. School choice endows vulnerable kids with “skills that are useful for success in college and career but that test scores do not capture.”

 

If Democrats are truly the "Party of Science," you'd think the data would matter more in their policy prescriptions.

 

 

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