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chart of presidents who did and didn't meet someone in a horsehead mask
@abeaujon @themarkberman @ktumulty ...or as Wolf Blitzer would say: a statistical dead heat.
Mark Berman with a satirical look at data journalism in 5 easy to understand charts.
President Obama was in Denver on Tuesday and met a person wearing a horse head mask. This is obviously a pivotal moment for the country and the world, but with such an occasion comes a bevy of questions: What does it all mean? From whence did the horse mask person come? How often does such a thing occur?

As with anything, these thorny issues cannot be resolved with words alone. We must give ourselves over to the comfort of data and numbers, knowing that only through these avenues can we find salvation and providence.

So, onto the charts.

Alberto Cairo:
There is a lot to praise in what all those ventures — and others that will appear in the future — are trying to achieve. Journalists are known for being allergic to math and to the scientific method; some even proudly boast about it. Many in our profession still stick to flawed practices, such as asking the same questions to two or more sources and then just reporting their answers, without weighing the evidence and then pointing out which opinion is better grounded.

At first, the current popularity of the new wave of data journalism seemed to be a good antidote to the epidemic of hardball punditry and tomfriedmanism that has plagued the news for ages. When  Silver published FiveThirtyEight’s foundational manifesto, “What the Fox Knows,” I applauded him with enthusiasm. After all, bad data is pervasive in traditional newsrooms. If you think I’m exaggerating, read this recent and infuriating Washington Post op-ed, which gets causality wrong, is oblivious of ecological fallacies, misinterprets sources, and ends with a coarse, insulting, and condescending line. Don’t blame just the authors. Blame the editors at the Post, too.

But I have to confess my disappointment with the new wave of data journalism — at least for now. All the questions in the first paragraph are malarkey. Those stories may not be representative of everything that FiveThirtyEight, Vox, or The Upshot are publishing — I haven’t gathered a proper sample — but they suggest that, when you pay close attention at what they do, it’s possible to notice worrying cracks that may undermine their own core principles.

Both of the above are takes on the current data journalism craze. Of course, Vox ≠ The Upshot ≠ Five Thirty Eight.

More politics and policy below the fold.

Larry Levitt:

The American people are still divided in their views of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is perhaps not surprising given how partisan the debate has been and the fundamental ideological differences in the country about the appropriate role for government in health care, as in other spheres. There are legitimate differences of opinion about the law, just as there are about any important policy issue.

But the politics of the ACA often get confused with the question of whether the law is working as intended, whatever one may think of the wisdom of those intentions. That is largely a factual question, though facts about the ACA are often blurred when looked at through ideologically tinted lenses.

To be sure, there is still plenty that remains unknown about the ACA, and it will take years for the law to fully play out and to get a complete evidence-based reckoning of how it is working. Here, though, is my initial take on how well the ACA is accomplishing so far what it set out to do:

The above is a Medicaid expansion primer from health reporter and wonk Dan Diamond. (Make sure to read the health reporters, not just the political journalists. It's a much more complete picture.)

Kevin Drum on Medicare cost slowdown (an analysis from Kaiser Family Fund; we covered it yesterday):

No one knows for sure if these reductions are permanent, or whether high growth rates will reappear in the future. But even if the low growth rates of the past few years can't be sustained, I suspect that Medicare growth will continue to be lower than anyone expected. There are two reasons for this. First, the growth rate of medical costs in general has been declining steadily for the past 30 years, and this has now been going on long enough that it's highly unlikely to be a statistical blip. After a surge in the 80s and 90s, we really are returning to the growth rates that were common earlier in the century, and obviously this will affect Medicare.

Second, Obamacare really will have an impact. Not everything in it will work, but it includes a lot of different cost-cutting measures and some of them will turn out to be pretty effective. And who knows? If Republicans ever stop pouting over Obamacare, we might even be able to experiment with different kinds of cost reductions.

There's a fair amount of year-to-year variability in health care inflation, and we should expect to have some years of high growth. But I'll bet the average over the next decade is somewhere around 2 percent above the general inflation rate. That's not too bad.

And more from Sarah Kliff:
What this chart shows is how much the Congressional Budget Office expects we'll need to pay for each and every Medicare beneficiary. And over the past four years, the forecasting agency has consistently downgraded the price of covering one senior's health care costs.

Saving $1,000 per patient adds up quickly in a program that covers about 50 million people. More precisely, it adds up to about $50 billion in savings this year. The reduction in expected costs grows to $2,369 in 2019. With an expected 60 million seniors enrolled in Medicare that year, it would work out to more than $120 billion shaved off the total cost of the program.

"The numbers are impressive, and the consecutive year-to-year reductions in projected Medicare spending are unprecedented," Kaiser Family Foundation's Tricia Neuman and Juliette Cubanski, who drew up the above chart, write. "The unexpected $1,000 per beneficiary reduction in spending this year may ease short-term budgetary pressures on Medicare and could provide an opportunity for thoughtful consideration of ways to bolster the program for an aging population."

As to what is driving the lower than expected spending, that's not completely clear. But Neuman and Cubanski have a few guesses.

Nate Cohn and Derek Willis:
The precinct level returns in Hinds County bolster the theory that a surge in black, Democratic turnout allowed Senator Thad Cochran to defeat Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party-backed state senator, in last month’s Republican primary runoff in Mississippi.

Mr. Cochran won by 7,667 votes. Nearly half — a net 3,532 votes — came from the most Democratic precincts in Jackson’s Hinds County, where President Obama won a combined 97.8 percent of the vote in 2012, according to figures released Tuesday night by the Mississippi secretary of state.

The surge in turnout was clearest in overwhelmingly black precincts; turnout sometimes increased by more than 3,000 percent over the initial Republican primary.

Joe Scarborough on Tuesday slammed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s refusal to meet with the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting, calling his defense one of the “stupidest arguments” he’s ever heard.
The Republican governor declined to meet with the families of children who were killed in the December 2012 shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, who wanted to discuss gun control legislation. Christie last week vetoed a state bill that would have banned ammunition magazines that held more than 10 rounds.
Notable because Scarborough has been one of Christie's biggest boosters. This is stupid stuff done by Christie to try and help himself in NH. It won't work. He'll never be president and this makes him look even more like an ass than usual (if that's possible).

Dr Jen Gunter:

Why can’t women just use the other 16 contraception methods not mentioned in Hobby Lobby ruling?

I get asked this question a lot.

It gets tweeted, posted on my blog, and I am asked in person.

Sometimes people are really genuine. I understand everyone doesn’t have the same medical background, and so for some it is a legitimate question.

Sometimes the tone is snide. I’m not sure of the agenda then. Sometimes it’s religion. Sometimes it’s the idea that someone should be forced to pay for someone else’s contraception. Sometimes I just don’t know.

So here goes. Once and for all:

Women shouldn’t have their birth control options restricted. Period. By any one. Anywhere. Any time.

Women shouldn’t have the most effective option restricted. No method of birth control is more effective that the two IUDs available in the United States. This is especially important when you consider the teenagers who are also on the health plan in question. Teenagers have the highest contraception failure rate and IUDs are spectacular at reducing unplanned pregnancies for teenagers. In addition, the Copper IUD is hormone free. which matters medically for many women regardless of age.

And there's more. Read it all.

Margot Sanger-Katz:

We’ve known for a few months now that lots of people signed up for health insurance this year in new marketplaces. A new survey shows that the people who did so are also pretty happy with their purchases.

The survey, from the Commonwealth Fund, a research group, came to similar conclusions as other surveys about the expansion of health insurance. It found that about 15 percent of adults younger than 65 now lack health insurance, down from 20 percent before the Affordable Care Act rolled out in January.

Read that with Christopher Flavelle:
Obamacare Is Working. Unless You're Black.

The exception to that trend was blacks. When the Commonwealth Fund conducted a survey from July to September last year, 21 percent of blacks reported being uninsured. This year, in a similar survey conducted from April to June, that level was effectively unchanged, at 20 percent. Blacks were about half as likely as Latinos to be uninsured a year ago; now the rates for the two groups are almost the same.

The Commonwealth report doesn’t offer any theories for why that might be, and it's hard to come up with any that are entirely satisfying. The answer has nothing to do with knowing about the law: Awareness of the Affordable Care Act's financial assistance was the same for blacks (62 percent) as Latinos (60 percent). And blacks were more likely than Latinos to be aware of the state insurance exchanges.

A big part of the explanation, without question, is that a disproportionate share of blacks live in states that have so far refused federal money to expand Medicaid. Sixty-two percent of black respondents fall into that category, compared with just 39 percent of Latinos. Of the six states where blacks make up more than a quarter of residents (not including the District of Columbia), only Maryland has expanded its program.

The choppy progress on Medicaid, however, feels like an incomplete explanation of the racial disparities outlined in the Commonwealth report.

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