Friday, April 18, 2014

Why Is Macro So Hard: Hard Data Is Still Corruptible

I am no expert in this area, so I’m not sure how this will turn out.

But … one of the things that makes macro hard is that governments are pretty good at suppressing data they don’t want people to see, and emphasizing data they do want people to see.

Which brings us to this years changes in the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

The New York Times is generally thought of as quite favorably disposed towards the Obama administration. Here’s what The Times says:

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey …

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey …

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

One of the goals of Obamacare was to reduce the number of uninsured.

So, when it’s desirable to measure whether Obamacare is making a difference, the Census Bureau is changing its measurement to make the number of uninsured look smaller.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” … said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

A major goal of the law is to increase the number of people with health insurance. … But the administration has been unable to say how many of the people gaining coverage were previously uninsured or had policies canceled, so the net increase in coverage is unclear.

Health policy experts and politicians had been assuming that the Census Bureau would help answer those questions …

… But officials said that the data for this year would not ordinarily be available until September 2015, and that the data for 2013 and 2014 would not be directly comparable with the long series of data for prior years.

Now, don’t be entirely cynical. The old questions were not good either:

Census officials and researchers have long expressed concerns about the old version of insurance questions in the Current Population Survey, and for more than a decade the agency has been trying to make it more accurate.

The questionnaire traditionally used by the Census Bureau provides an “inflated estimate of the uninsured” …

Oh. I’m sorry. Perhaps you should be even more cynical. Think about what was just said.

The old way of measuring the number of uninsured overstated the number. So they were justifying change on a number that was biased in a direction that would support change. And now, when it’s unclear if the policy change will make a difference, they’re switching to a number that’s biased in that direction.

That’s the same technique used by 4-year olds everywhere: before dinner they’re soooo hungry, but after they’ve had a cookie, they have no appetite at dinner.

But the difference can’t be that big, can it?

In the test last year, the percentage of people without health insurance was 10.6 percent when interviewers used the new questionnaire, compared with 12.5 percent using the old version.

That’s about 2%. In a population of 300 million, that’s about 6 million. And the Obama administration has been cheerleading because 7 million people have signed up. So, taking their number at face value … the vast majority of it is meaningless.

Please note that the quotes above are from the largest newspaper that generally supports the Obama administration. If this is what their friends say …

No comments:

Post a Comment