Political Animal


June 17, 2011 4:25 PM GOP ‘experts’ show why the McKinsey controversy matters

By Steve Benen

The Washington Post ran an op-ed this morning from right-wing Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Republican economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the Affordable Care Act. The point, not surprisingly, was to trash the law. But guess what they used as evidence while making their case?

A recent employer survey by McKinsey & Co. found that more than half of all American companies are likely to “dump” their workers into the government-run exchanges. If half of the 180 million workers who enjoy employer-provided care wind up in the exchanges, the annual cost of Obamacare would increase by $400 billion by 2021. If the other half eventually follows suit, and all American employees wind up in the exchanges — which we believe is a goal of Obamacare — then the annual cost of the exchanges would increase by more than $800 billion. […]

This isn’t cynicism; this is realism.

This isn’t policy analysis; this is cheap, partisan hackery.

Johnson and Holtz-Eakin, neither of whom are exactly committed to good-faith arguments, are quoting the McKinsey & Company study accurately, but what they neglected to mention is that the study itself is at the center of a burgeoning controversy. As we’ve been talking about for two weeks, the firm’s highly dubious report continues to generate unanswered questions, and McKinsey refuses to disclose its methodology or subject its findings to any scrutiny.

Indeed, it’s worth remembering that a McKinsey insider conceded this week, “Trust me. The survey is not a good tool for prediction.”

But that’s exactly what Johnson and Holtz-Eakin based their op-ed on — the suspicious study’s predictive value.

Several committees and members of Congress are eager for McKinsey to come clean and answer some basic questions: who funded the study, will McKinsey benefit financially from the results, how the survey was structured, how were participants chosen, how were the interviews conducted, how were respondents “educated,” what was the exact wording of the questions, what was the internal review process like, etc.

And the more the McKinsey report is cited as proof by leading officials, the more important it is to understand how the study came to be, why its authors are terrified of scrutiny, and why it’s at odds with all other available evidence.

Paul Krugman appreciates the significance of the controversy.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the study was embarrassingly bad — maybe it was a skewed sample, maybe the questions were leading, maybe there was no real data at all. Whatever.

The important thing is that this must not stand. You can’t enter the political debate with strong claims about what the evidence says, then refuse to produce that evidence.

We are, of course, still waiting for major media outlets to care. Some — Reuters and Wall Street Journal, I’m looking in your direction — were only too pleased to note McKinsely’s findings, but have made no mention of the fact that there’s a major controversy underway about whether those findings are reliable.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Danp on June 17, 2011 4:41 PM:

    A recent employer survey by McKinsey & Co. found that more than half of all American companies are likely to “dump

    The survey said a third, not a half.

    If half of the 180 million workers who enjoy employer-provided care wind up ...

    It said companies, not employees.

  • Mr. Serf Man on June 17, 2011 4:49 PM:

    and yet the big lie is slowly becoming conventional wisdom......
    It has achieved it's primary purpose and is now firmly wedged in the minds of low info voters and everyone who watches Faux Nooze

  • Texas Aggie on June 17, 2011 4:53 PM:

    There is a pattern to the pieces that Steve keeps posting. In too many cases the kernel of news at the center of the piece would change the conversation if it were promulgated in the general public, but very few people ever hear of what is going on. This seems to be the major problem, not the immediate problems that are being discussed in the piece. Like here, we obsess about the real meaning of the survey rather than on getting the full story to the public in general.

    So how do we get the information into the general discussion? That is the goal, not just disputing what the MSM is reporting. Is the Washington Monthly read by people in the Beltway or the Obama administration? I get the feeling sometime that we're just whistling in the wind.

  • Michael on June 17, 2011 5:17 PM:

    @ Aggie, we are quite aware that is the problem. But we do not have the decades and decades long infrastructure that the republicans have set up to nefariously control it's message.

    Our answer to faux news is MSNBC, but we can only put out reasonable information, we can't put out blatant lies, which leaves us at a major disadvantage.

    Over time, they have managed to lower enough iq's with their inane blather that they are now a potent force in countering rational viewpoint.

    Coupled with their ability to control what is disseminated in the newspaper media and news outlets, we are in dire straits.

  • SteveADor on June 17, 2011 5:31 PM:

    "but what they neglected to mention is that the study itself is at the center of a burgeoning controversy"



  • Rugosa on June 17, 2011 5:40 PM:

    Yes, the lie is now pupating into truthiness, but this is just more right-wing distraction from the real issues. The cost of the exchanges is not as important as the total cost of the health care system.

    Even if the exchanges end up costing more than planned, the real questions are: will people still have decent, affordable coverage, and will overall health care costs increase/decrease/remain the same? Presumably, if companies dump their plans, insurance companies will want to compete for the new customer base through the exchanges. If the health care plans offered through the exchanges have to meet basic standards, people are required to buy insurance so the pool stays large, and poorer people get subsidies to help pay for the plans, the end result may be completely satisfactory.

    It would be useful to see that comparison (and the experts probably have), but talking about the cost of the exchanges in isolation is just hand-waving.

  • exlibra on June 17, 2011 7:48 PM:

    Johnson and Holtz-Eakin [...] are quoting the McKinsey & Company study accurately, -- Steve Benen

    Not even that, as Danp pointed out in the first comment. McKinsey's poll results weren't quite enough for the duo. A little compost, a little Viagra and, voila! it now looks even worse!

  • Woodsteinweeps on June 17, 2011 9:07 PM:

    Even more egregious is to claim 180 million workers, let alone workers enjoying employer-provided care. The May 2011 BLS report estimates the ENTIRE U.S. workforce at a mere 153.7 million. How can a subset of workers be greater than the total number of workers? If Johnson's so fanatical about cutting spending, he should forfeit his paycheck (and benefits), because he sure hasn't earned them. I've contacted the Washington Post about printing a correction, and I've contacted Senator Boxer to spur the Senate Ethics Committee into investigation/rebuke for Johnson. Holtz-Eakin, you're next.

  • Sam on June 17, 2011 9:10 PM:

    I always thought the CBO was a nonpartisan entity. Holtz-Eakin is one of the biggest partisan hacks out there right now - complete with his secretly corporate funded American Action Forum.

  • exlibra on June 18, 2011 12:05 AM:

    Sam on June 17, 2011 9:10 PM:

    I always thought the CBO was a nonpartisan entity. Holtz-Eakin is one of the biggest partisan hacks out there right now [...]

    Eh? Where's the CBO coming in from? They had nothing to do with anything. At least not as mentioned in the article or in the McKinsey's peculiar poll. Holtz-Eakin has always been a partisan hack; I don't think he'd have been called to serve as McCain's "guru" on economy, otherwise

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