A few weeks ago the business consulting firm McKinsey & Company released a summary of a study that, contrary to the preponderance of data, projected that implementation of the Affordable Care Act would lead a large number of employers to drop health insurance coverage for their employees. Brian Beutler and Greg Sargent have done great reporting on this story, and under their continued pressure—along with political pressure from the White House and Congressional Democrats—McKinsey has finally released their survey questions and methodology.
Beutler and Sargent are just now going through the documents, but they both highlighted this, from the statement McKinsey issued with the survey information:
As such, our survey results are not comparable to the healthcare research and analysis conducted by others such as the Congressional Budget Office, RAND and the Urban Institute. Each of those studies employed economic modeling, not opinion surveys, and focused on the impact of healthcare reform on individuals, not employer attitudes.
Comparing the McKinsey survey to economic estimates, such as the CBO’s, is comparing apples to oranges. While the McKinsey Quarterly article about the survey cited CBO estimates, any comparison is not apt. We understand how the language in the article could lead the reader to think the research was a prediction, but it is not.
But here’s the thing: whether or not McKinsey meant for the study to be perceived as predictive, anyone who knows about how election polls are reported knows that most reporting and the perceptions of those who hear about polls is to assume they are predictive. This is at the heart of much criticism of Rasmussen; their polls skew decisively to the right and they do not release their clients, so a reasonable inference is that the purpose of their polls is to skew belief that Republicans are doing better and people favor Republicans more than is the reality.
With such shadiness surrounding this entire episode, it’s hard to not assume something similar, that the people who requested the survey and probably the people who conducted it knew that it would be reported in a way that would lead people to expect yet another negative affect of “Obamacare.” The survey was probably intended to exploit the mental shorthand of people who hear a poll and believe it’s a prediction, in this case to make people expect more bad things in the future should Obama remain president and the ACA not be repealed.
Congratulations, McKinsey, for performing your role, wittingly or not, in a misinformation campaign.