Cooking data vs burning it


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I shared my healthcare nightmare on Daily Kos yesterday, right on cue the usual suspects are brandishing new supposed data intended to kill millions of people like me before we become really unprofitable. It should not come as breaking news around these skeptical parts that telling powerful people the answer they want to hear is good business, even when everyone knows that answer is wrong. But there’s a difference between artfully roasting data and shoveling it into a blast furnace.

I’m talking of course about that new PR scheme, being widely passed off as a study today, hyped by the usual harpies from Heritage Foundation and beyond shrieking that, indeed we-told-you-sotm, Obamacare will raise most people’s insurance premiums! There’s just one thing wrong with that:

TPM — Only the foundation left out one key variable in the equation, one that undermines their conclusion that “individuals in most states will end up spending more on the exchanges.” They didn’t account for the financial help that the Affordable Care Act gives uninsured people to purchase insurance, one of the law’s central provisions.

Under Obamacare, the sticker price for insurance isn’t what most people are going to actually pay. The law offers tax credits, on a sliding scale, for people making between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. According to estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of uninsured Americans have an income within that range.

Using the Kaiser Subsidy Calculator, a 40 year-old non smoker making $24,000 a year would pay about $3287 a year or around $325/month without the subsidy. But that same person would only pay $1,587/year or about $130/month under the ACA. And that policy under the ACA will have to cover preexisting conditions, preventative care including pap smears and birth control, and there are no annual or lifetime benefit caps. First of all, $325 a month is kick-ass for high quality coverage with all those features. But $125/month is almost surreal in the US. (Incidentally, you can now shop for those rates on the fed exchange without having to register an account at first, just look for a button on the bottom right of the main splash page that says “See Plans Now.” The rates shown are great and they do not reflect the subsidy most middle and lower income customers will benefit hugely from.)

Those are pretty major points to leave out of any healthcare cost calculations, huh? The Heritage figures aren’t merely cooked, they’ve been willfully rendered unrecognizable. But it’s also nothing new.

There’s a methodology now all the rage in corporate America, call it lucrative lying, telling lies rich people want to hear and will pay for. I’ll never forget about ten years ago, when I was a manager at an inbound contact center — one that started their entry level employees out at more than I make now at my present job after three years — some corporate stooge tried to pass off a bullshit, self-serving customer survey as legit.

Specifically, that our customers actually preferred using an online ticket to resolve an issue versus “talking on the phone”. No one believed the stooge, he was almost laughed out of the room, it flied in the face of every single person’s experience. But it happened to also be exactly what the company honchos wanted to hear. Because an integrated telephony-internet system and trained live English speaking reps cost more than a crappy circa 1997 online ticket set up being serviced out of Bangladesh.

We got our hands on the data and guess what? There had been three questions, customers polled had the choice of 1) online ticket, 2) online chat, or 3) leaving a voice mail for a live person, i.e., talking on the phone. Even then the voice mail option almost beat the other two combined. Only by rolling in online chat and online ticket as the same thing did the combo slightly edge out voice mail. But hey, the stooge got paid for conducting the study and the CEO got to stamp the study’s official results onto his steaming pile of bullshit. The only thing that was sacrificed was customer service, and two out of three ain’t bad eh?

That was a pretty clumsy example of cooking data into a semi-palatable lie. But it looks like the work of Cordon Bleu chefs compared to the shit Heritage is serving up today.






  1. Dennis N says

    I get the feeling that this is common practice in the business world. Is there, or can we create, a repository for anecdotes like this?

  2. stever says

    I would actually prefer using a well-designed Web reporting form to many of the phone monkeys I’ve dealt with. I’m sure you’ve encountered one too, that guy with the script and early elementary-school reading skills. If I could get remote access to the system he’s sitting in front of, I could probably resolve the problem in the time it takes him to recite the first two questions, which is always begin something like
    And the script is usually written by someone who never quite mastered the advanced concept of the decision tree, so you have to listen to whole whole list.

  3. says

    So would I Stever. But well designed is the key. In fairness some of these products defy welld esigned supoprt websites, since they are often upgraded, the upgrades then fixed, bugs worked out, new ones appear, problems can come and go on a daily basis, by the time that option or solution is integrated into the online ticket drop down options/categories, that problem may not exist anymore or the solution may have changed radically. Live human beings can address that efficiently, but until we have cheap devices that can score well on a Turing Test, machines and software are limited.

    I see a phenomenon among high level execs who are not practicing developers or in the trenches on support, similar in some ways to investors who truly believe there must be a lead pipe cinch system for beating the stock market if only they could find it: they seem to believe there is some vague, idealistic set up out there somewhere which almost magically scales up to any issue they have and be super simple and cheap. It’s an exercise in fantasy for both investors and execs.

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