Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bush Peaks flank Clinton Valley when plotting changes in the cost of health insurance against inflation rate

The New York Times has a tradition of "burying the lede," as journalists say, when the thrust of a story conflicts with their institutional prejudices and preconceptions -- many of which seem to involve Bill Clinton. Here's a great example.

The chart, which almost looks like a mountain range, illustrates how annual changes in the cost of health insurance compare to the inflation rate over time. You might call the "Twin Peaks" Bush I and Bush II. They flank what you could call Clinton Valley. See any difference?


For several years in the middle of Clinton's two terms, medical costs increased at a significantly lower rate than inflation. But you wouldn't know that if you just glanced at the article, online or in print. The online version offers a small graphic that crops out the Clinton years altogether (you have to click on it to load the complete chart, but there's nothing to tell you something is missing). In the print version, the chart is relegated to the end of the story, after the jump.

The difference between the Republican and the Democratic years is striking, and you'd think that it might be worthy of note in the story. You'd be wrong. Here's the actual lede:
The cost of living keeps going up, but the cost of healthy living is going up even faster.

A widely followed national survey reported yesterday that the cost of employee health care coverage rose 7.7 percent this year, more than double the overall inflation rate and well ahead of the increase in the incomes of workers.

The 7.7 percent increase was the lowest since 1999. But the average cost to employees continued an upward trend, reaching $2,973 annually for family coverage out of a total cost of $11,481.

Since 2000, the cost of family coverage has risen 87 percent while consumer prices are up 18 percent and the pay of workers has increased 20 percent, the survey noted. That is without counting the cost of deductibles and other out-of-pocket payments, which have also been rising.
The story continues in this vein but never mentions the difference between the Clinton and the Bush years -- which you have to pick out of the chart for yourself, once you find it. It seems a strange approach. After all, for three years under Clinton, health insurance costs rose less than the inflation rate. That did not happen under either Bush. In addition, the rate of increase during all eight Clinton years was less than the lowest rate of increase under either Bush. You'd think the difference might hold some clues about what Bill Clinton did right and what the Bushes did wrong.

But that line of inquiry would, of course, conflict with the paper's devotion to the conventional wisdom that The Clintons Had A Chance To Fix Health Insurance But Screwed It Up. Be that as it may, the chart makes it clearly apparent that the Clinton administration did a lot more right in the field of health policy than two different Bush administrations, with all their free market gimmicks like Health Savings Accounts and their giveaways to Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

Working people and small business are being eaten alive by the soaring cost of health insurance. So are big employers -- just look at the way health insurance costs have helped wreck the American auto industry.

This should be a big issue for the Democrats. They should speak out, set the record straight, and stop running away from the successes of the Clinton years.


Randomfactor said...

Looks to me like the decline started BEFORE Clinton, the rise started during his administration, and it's on the way down again.

Just playing devil's advocate here, but it doesn't look persuasive--although it's dramatic, I'll grant you.

Madison Guy said...

Remember, the black line charts change in cost vs. inflation rate -- not cost per se. So there never was a decline -- insurance costs rose every year, even a little bit at the bottom of the "Clinton Valley."

But for three years under Clinton, health insurance costs rose less than the inflation rate. That has not happened under either Bush. in addition, the rate of increase during the entire Clinton term was less than the lowest rate of increase under either Bush.