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More Junk Science 



But they also produce targeted studies to attempt to besmirch patient-centered, free-market options.

AEI Senior Fellow Tom Miller writes about another case in point: “Health Savings Accounts and Health Care Costs:  While You were Sleeping.” 

“The latest illustration appears in this month’s issue of Health Affairs in the form of a targeted takedown of HSAs, posing as health policy research,” Tom writes.

The primary journal focusing on health policy just published an article by lead author Sherry Glied that concludes HSAs failed to increase cost consciousness and health care efficiency and therefore have no remaining justification.

Glied writes that “promised gains in efficiency from HSAs have not borne out, so it is difficult to justify maintaining this regressive tax break.”

Tom counters that “The authors cobble together scraps of secondary evidence” that purport to show HSA holders had less difficulty in accessing health care services than patients with regular high-deductible health policies.

He concludes their analysis is highly flawed: “They just decided to round up whatever suspect evidence they could manufacture to augment their main grievances,” adding the main thing the authors seem to be suffering is “a pre-existing condition—opposition to HSAs.”

HSAs were created nearly 20 years ago with passage of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), and 32 million Americans hold HSAs today with $100 billion in savings.

HSA updates and reforms are very much in order, and Tom offers, in the second of his two articles, a mix of policy reforms to return to cost consciousness, individual responsibility, and wiser health care consumption decisions.  

And Tom’s humor is ever present:  The title of his articles plays on the delightful Sandra Bullock film, “While You Were Sleeping.”

And speaking of HSAs, they are available largely because of the heroic work of Doug Badger, then senior advisor on health policy to President George W. Bush. He led the White House effort in 2003 to pass MMA that contains the HSA provisions.

Doug has a new piece out at The Daily Signal about another highly flawed study, this one in the distinguished British Medical Journal.

In “Junk Science Warnings: Voting Republican Could Kill You,” Doug looks at a BMJ study that posits a link between counties that voted for Republican presidential candidates and age-adjusted mortality. 

We’ve already seen stories in compliant media eager to swallow the junk science: “Why people in Republican-leaning areas seem more likely to die prematurely,” NPR report.  “Red counties have higher mortality rates than blue counties — and the gap is growing,” Salon writes.

So if you vote Republican, you are more likely to die early.  Really?  

The study says people who live in GOP counties have experienced a smaller improvement in mortality rates than people who live in counties that backed Democrats over a 20-year period (2001-2019). 

But the BMJ study is full of design flaws and anomalies.  “It deploys dodgy statistical legerdemain to make a political point,” Doug writes. “The list of counties that backed one party or the other fluctuated over the five election cycles,” but the authors put their thumbs on the scale if a county swung for Trump in 2106.

Few counties voted consistently Republican or Democrat.  A more likely difference:  Health services are more accessible in Democrat-leaning urban areas with more-Republican major medical centers than in rural areas.

“Absurdities abound. Are people who vote for a Democrat more likely to die because a Republican carried his or her county? Is it safe to vote Republican so long as you live in a county that reliably backs Democrats?” Doug asks.

“The British Medical Journal has published many studies that have advanced human knowledge and contributed to better medical care.  This isn’t one of them,” he concludes.

As these two examples show, it’s increasingly difficult to believe “the science.”


Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute.