WaPo hypes insurance industry claims; doesn't bother to assess credibility

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly "reports" on the insurance industry's assault on health care reform:

After months of collaboration on President Obama's attempt to overhaul the nation's health-care system, the insurance industry plans to strike out against the effort on Monday with a report warning that the typical family premium in 2019 could cost $4,000 more than projected.


Industry officials said they intend to circulate the report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers on Capitol Hill and promote it in new advertisements. That could complicate Democratic hopes for action on the legislation this week.


Though open to dispute, the analysis is certain to raise questions about whether Obama can deliver on his twin promises of extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans while also curbing skyrocketing health-care costs.

Connolly then quoted from the report, and quoted an insurance industry spokeswoman. Eventually, near the end of the article, Connolly finally got around to including some disagreements with the study's conclusions. But she didn't make any attempt to answer for readers a rather basic question: Is the insurance industry study correct?

Nor did she spend any time at all putting PricewaterhouseCoopers' involvement in context. It seems like they're a neutral, credible source, right? But as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein explains elsewhere, the firm's track record isn't particularly good:

The report was farmed out to the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has something of a history with this sort of thing: In the early-'90s, the tobacco industry commissioned PWC to estimate the economic devastation that would result from a tax on tobacco. The report was later analyzed by the Arthur Andersen Economic Consulting group, which concluded that "the cumulative effect of PW's methods ... is to produce patently unreliable results." It's perhaps no surprise that the patently unreliable results were all in the tobacco industry's favor.

That seems like some useful context that could have helped Connolly's readers, doesn't it? Klein goes on to point out glaring flaws in the insurance industry study -- flaws that are nowhere to be found in Connolly's article. Instead, Connolly leads with the alarming conclusion that the "typical family" could pay $4,000 more for health care -- and makes no attempt to assess the validity of that claim. She doesn't even explain what "typical family" means.

Could someone explain to me why Connolly's write-up is on the front page of the Washington Post, and Klein's is on a blog on the Post's web page?

UPDATE: TNR's Jonathan Cohn posted at 10:56 last night an assessment of the study that noted it makes a series of "strange assumptions" that calls its conclusions into question. Like this one, which Cohn quotes directly: "We have estimated the potential impact of the tax on premiums. Although we expect employers to respond to the tax by restructuring their benefits to avoid it, we demonstrate the impact assuming it is applied."

So the insurance industry study is based on assumptions it believes are false. That's a pretty damning piece of information, isn't it? Jonathan Cohn posted it online last night -- but Ceci Connolly couldn't be bothered to include it in her write-up of the insurance industry's attack for today's Washington Post.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
The Washington Post
Ceci Connolly, Ezra Klein
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