The Census Bureau has been directed to change the wording of questions concerning Americans’ health coverage so that it will be impossible to compare the answers with those provided by takers of the bureau’s interim annual surveys in previous years.
First reported Tuesday in The New York Times, the change drew criticism not only from conservatives — who have smelled some kind of agenda-driven motive from the Administration of President Barack Obama ever since oversight of the Census Bureau was taken out from under the Commerce Department and placed under the control of former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — but also from mainstream media, including Times reporter Josh Barro:
It’s insane for Census to change its method for measuring health insurance coverage right now. Why can’t this wait? http://t.co/4RU0tlKNFd
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) April 15, 2014
Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle was “speechless” at the news:
I’m speechless. Completely inexcusable. The administration deserves all of the criticism it will get, and then some. http://t.co/nQEzctGKKW
— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) April 15, 2014
What’s got them so upset? Here’s the first sentence of The Times’ story:
The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.
The backlash this week stems from fresh suspicions, although wary conservatives were upset way back in 2009, when the Census Bureau was placed under the loving care of the White House. At the time, there was no smoking gun signaling the Obama Administration’s motive for the change, but conservative lawmakers knew the move was politically motivated.
“Requiring the Census director to report directly to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is a shamefully transparent attempt by your administration to politicize the Census Bureau and manipulate the 2010 Census,” Republican lawmakers wrote to Obama at the time.
“It takes something that is supposedly apolitical like the census, and gives it to a guy who is infamously political,” Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) chimed in.
Of course, the new wording on the annual survey questions all but guarantees a favorable — yet apples-and-oranges — comparison between the ration of newly insured Americans to those who’d obtained insurance for the first time in previous years.
“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,” reported The Times. “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.
“’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.”
But of course.
Watch for this one to go unreported, underreported or, if all else fails, spun beyond comprehension in the mainstream press.