HOW BIG IS ENORMOUS! Leonhardt described enormous waste. But how much waste is that? // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2009
Rashomon and Lieberman: This week, by happenstance, our state-of-the-art computer system hasnt been playing video. For that reason, we havent been able to watch the tape of Joe Liebermans September visit with the editorial board of the Connecticut Post.
(You can watch the tape, thanks to Greg Sargent. Go aheadjust click here.)
What did Lieberman say to the Post? More specifically, what did he say about his views on a possible Medicare buy-in? Without access to the tape, it has really been quite an adventure trying to puzzle that out. For one example, this is what the New York Times says in todays editorial:
According to the editors, Lieberman was publicly championing a Medicare buy-in when he spoke to the Post in September. In the short quote they pulled from the tape, they seem to have Lieberman describing his then-current views on a buy-inviews hed maintained for many years.
But that isnt what David Herszenhorn seemed to say in yesterdays New York Times. In a front-page news report, Herszenhorn described Liebermans session with the Connecticut Post like this:
Herszenhorn said Lieberman voiced support for the buy-in when he met with the editorsbut he offered no quote to that effect. Instead, he seemed to quote Lieberman discussing a similar proposal from the 2000 Gore campaignwhile saying he hadnt even remembered this matter until Reids office piped up. By the way: This Medicare buy-in was not a core component of Gores health proposals; it was very occasionally mentioned in passing. We note that the Times has dropped this formulation from the versions of this report which appear on-line. (Weve transcribed our hard-copy Times.)
Might we note something about these two pieces? For whatever reason, in neither one is Lieberman quoted endorsing a Medicare buy-in.
On Monday evenings Maddow show, Rachel Maddow played the following clip from Liebermans session with the Connecticut Post. This clip includes all the language which has been quoted by Herszenhorn and the Times editors. But Maddow offered a third account of Liebermans focus. According to Maddow, Lieberman was talk[ing] favorably about the stance he had taken in his 2006 Senate campaign:
The Medicare buy-in is, essentially, a trademarked Joe Lieberman policy idea, Maddow said. Its an idea that hes promoted and explained and campaigned on repeatedly.
Is this some sort of Rashomon sequel? All three sources used the same tape. But Maddow said Lieberman was referring to his stance in his 2006 Senate race. Herszenhorn seemed to say he was talking about the 2000 White House campaign. Today, the Times editors give the impression that he was simply describing his current stance on this matterrather, the stance he held as he spoke in September.
Repeat: We still havent seen the tape for ourselves. For ourselves, wed have the most faith in Greg Sargents judgment. On Monday, when he posted the tape, Sargent also said that Lieberman was talking about the 2006 campaign. Meanwhile, this was his assessment of what the solon had said:
Were going to watch the tape today. What do you think he said?
Paraphrased under the Lash: This was reporter Devon Lashs account, right there in the Connecticut Post, of what Lieberman said in that meeting. As Sargent notes, Lash was only paraphrasing. That doesnt mean Lash was wrong:
Were going to watch the tape today to check out what Lieberman said.
PART 2HOW BIG IS ENORMOUS: Scary stories have driven our politics for a good long time now. Last week, David Leonhardt discussed the way the culture of scary stories will likely affect the ongoing drive for significant health care reform.
Over the next several weeks, members of Congress will be confronted with one scary story after another about what will happen if they try to cut health care costs, Leonhardt predicted, with perfect justice. He said this would happen despite an obvious fact about our gruesome health system:
Our medical system wastes enormous amounts of money, Leonhardt said (our emphasis). The fact of this enormous waste is abundantly clear, he said. But the fact of this enormous waste may get wiped away by those scary stories, he said. As he continued, Leonhardt marveled at the irrationality of our political discourse:
In a more rational world, something would be wrong with this picture. According to Leonhardt, its abundantly clear that were wasting enormous sums in our health care system. Why then are those scary/scare stories so politically potent?
Why are those scary stories so potent? For our money, part of the answer can be found in Leonhardts (highly worthwhile) report.
Why are those scary stories so potent? Might it be because most voters dont know the fact which is abundantly clear? It may be abundantly clear to Leonhardt that we waste enormous sums. But well guess that very few voters know that.
How enormous is that waste? Well guess that few voters know.
In large part, these voters dont know because theyve never been toldnot by their political leaders; not by our so-called liberal journals; not by the mainstream press corps. All year long, weve been stunned by this unfolding syndrome, a syndrome devoted to public incomprehension. In our view, Leonhardts very worthwhile piece provides the latest example.
Leonhardt says we waste enormous sums in our health care system. But how enormous is that waste? Well venture a wild crazy guess: Leonhardts readers dont know. Well guess this is true despite a key fact: Leonhardts weekly Economic Scene column operates on the high end of mainstream journalism. Presumably, Leonhardts readers are much better informed than the average Joe.
But how enormous is our waste? Would Leonhardts readers be able to offer a reasonably well-informed answer?
Judging from Leonhardts work in this (worthwhile) column, well guess that the answer is no.
Go aheadread through the whole piece. See if Leonhardt gives his readers any sense of the scale on which that waste might be measured. He never mentions the foreign data, which give a sense of the mammoth scale on which that wastethat corporate lootingcan be measured. Nor does he cite the handful of studies which have attempted to quantify the amount of waste in our system.
At least two such studies appeared this year, describingand attempting to quantifythe ginormous amounts of waste in our system. We cited these studies here at THE HOWLER, but only as a way of noting the comically tiny amount of attention they received in the press.
But then, Leonhardt doesnt cite these studies either. In all honesty, he gives his readers no way to know what enormous means in this column.
Do Leonhardts readers understand how enormous our waste really is? Go aheadread through the whole piece. He doesnt give readers any sense of the scale on which this waste may be measured. Indeed, lets look again at the early passage in which Leonhardt does use a number:
Billions of dollars of waste? This is Leonhardts lone attempt to quantify the scale of the waste. And in his use of this highly general figure, Leonhardt vastly understates the apparent size of the problem.
Billions of dollars of waste? In this passage, Leonhardt uses that figure as a way to define the size of the problem. In fact, if reform could bring the figure down to that scale, it would be an enormous success. The studies which have defined this problem have talked about hundreds of billions in annual waste. Meanwhile, the foreign experienceexpressed in dollars spent per personbrings measurement of our waste down to an understandable human scale.
In part, scary stories are political potent because they operate in the context of massive public ignorance. They employ demonistic imagery which is quite familiar to votersfor example, images of uncaring, incompetent bureaucrats who dont give a fig about you or yours. These images are familiar to votersand thereby potentbecause Major Interests have spent massive amounts of time and energy promoting them in the past fifty years.
The mainstream press and the liberal world make little effortindeed, almost noneto create countervailing frameworks. Dem pols wouldnt tackle this task even on pain of death.
How enormous is that waste? Leonhardt made little attempt to say. He made little attempt to shock the conscience with the massive size of the problem. In future weeks, scary stories may well scare voters and, in the process, sway some pols. Their potency stems from the lax, lazy way other segments attempt to address them.
TomorrowPart 3: About those home health care overpayments.