Krugman dismantles the right's "lousy" Medicaid arguments

The New York Times columnist on what might be the right's silliest anti-Obamacare argument yet

By Elias Isquith

Published October 21, 2013 1:35PM (EDT)

Paul Krugman                                                                                                                                                                       (Reuters/Anton Golubev)
Paul Krugman (Reuters/Anton Golubev)

In his latest column for the New York Times, Paul Krugman pushes back on what he calls the right's truly "lousy" argument against Obamacare and its provision to expand Medicaid access for the poor.

"And I don't just mean lousy as in 'bad'; I also mean it in the original sense, 'infested with lice,'" Krugman writes.

After saying "sheer spite" is the only real reason that some states have rejected Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, Krugman goes on to claim that opponents of the bill nonetheless require "intellectual cover." And that's where the "lousy" argument comes in:

Enter the same experts, more or less, who warned about rate shock, to declare that Medicaid actually hurts its recipients. Their evidence? Medicaid patients tend to be sicker than the uninsured, and slower to recover from surgery.

O.K., you know what to do: Google “spurious correlation health.” You are immediately led to the tale of certain Pacific Islanders who long believed that having lice made you healthy, because they observed that people with lice were, typically, healthier than those without. They were, of course, mixing up cause and effect: lice tend to infest the healthy, so they were a consequence, not a cause, of good health.

The application to Medicaid should be obvious. Sick people are likely to have low incomes; more generally, low-income Americans who qualify for Medicaid just tend in general to have poor health. So pointing to a correlation between Medicaid and poor health as evidence that Medicaid actually hurts its recipients is as foolish as claiming that lice make you healthy. It is, as I said, a lousy argument.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Healthcare Reform Medicaid Obamacare Paul Krugman The New York Times