Insider's Game

Selected writings by David Fiderer

Robert Samuelson Cites Dodgy Numbers to Attack Health Care Reform

First published in The Huffington Post on September 14, 2009

“Obama’s selling of ‘reform’ qualifies as high-class hucksterism,” writes Newsweek’s Robert Samuelson, who, like South Carolina’s Joe Wilson or David Brooks, knows a thing or two about dishonesty.


To impugn Obama, Samuelson cites a study prepared by the subsidiary of an insurance company, United Health Care.  The study acknowledges that H.R. 3200— the main House bill – is budget neutral for the next decade. From 2010 until 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office figures, the net cost to the budget is  $39 billion, well within the margin of error for any decade long budget projections.


But the United Health Care subsidiary, the Lewin Group, came up with its own numbers for the subsequent decade from, 2020 through 2029. The Lewin Group’s estimates show that, for the first time, the net budget cost grows by about 20% a year, adding another $1 trillion to the deficit.  If Samuelson knew something about economics, he would understand why that $1 trillion amount is highly speculative.  There are just too many variables in the healthcare equation 15 to 20 years from now to measure the net costs with that kind of precision.


Also, the Lewin Group’s numbers have been consistently at odds with those of the C.B.O., which estimated that between 11 and 12 million people would enroll in the public option, versus 88 million estimated by the Lewin Group. As reported in the Columbia Journalism Review, “no corporate policy has been written to protect Lewin from interference by its parent companies.”


Anyone who has reviewed these studies understands how easily they can be rigged to attain a certain outcome.  “A ban on cell-phone use while people are driving costs $380,000 per quality-adjusted life-year,” claim the authors of a study cited by the C.B.O. to justify its skepticism that that preventative health care saves money in the long run. That particular study has been widely criticised.


By referencing dubious numbers from a tainted source, Samuelson seeks to establish a bogus equivalency. Yes, the Republicans lied about death panels, but Obama is dishonest too, he argues.  After Obama said the death panels were “a lie, pure and simple,” the Republicans have been retorting, “You lie!” Samuelson added his voice to the G.O.P. echo chamber.