Now They Tell Us: Pro-Obama-Care Study By ‘Wonderful’ Group Now Seen As Dangerously Faulty By NYT

Clay Waters
Media Research Center

Another “now they tell us” moment from the New York Times on Obama-care appeared on Thursday’s front page: “Study Cited for Health-Cost Cuts Overstated Its Upside, Critics Say” by health reporters Reed Abelson and Gardiner Harris. The study originated from the obscure Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care group and was heavily promoted on Capitol Hill by Congressional Budget Office director turned Obama budget director Peter Orszag.

Abelson has trod lightly over this ground before, in a December 23, 2009 story, pointing out flaws in the Dartmouth study, but this is the first Times story that challenges the findings root and branch. This after years of Times reporters and writers promoting the study, itself heavily promoted by Orszag.

In selling the health care overhaul to Congress, the Obama administration cited a once obscure research group at Dartmouth College to claim that it could not only cut billions in wasteful health care spending but make people healthier by doing so.

Wasteful spending — perhaps $700 billion a year — “does nothing to improve patient health but subjects you and me to tests and procedures that aren’t necessary and are potentially harmful,” the president’s budget director, Peter Orszag, wrote in a blog post characteristic of the administration’s argument.

Even Dartmouth’s claims about which hospitals and regions are cheapest may be suspect. The principal argument behind Dartmouth’s research is that doctors in the Upper Midwest offer consistently better and cheaper care than their counterparts in the South and in big cities, and if Southern and urban doctors would be less greedy and act more like ones in Minnesota, the country would be both healthier and wealthier.

But the real difference in costs between, say, Houston and Bismarck, N.D., may result less from how doctors work than from how patients live. Houstonians may simply be sicker and poorer than their Bismarck counterparts. Also, nurses in Houston tend to be paid more than those in North Dakota because the cost of living is higher in Houston. Neither patients’ health nor differences in prices are fully considered by the Dartmouth Atlas.

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