McKinsey comes clean

As we’ve been talking about for weeks, McKinsey & Company published a controversial study recently, purporting to show that nearly a third of American businesses will stop offering health coverage to their employees as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Asked to disclose its methodology or subject its findings to scrutiny, McKinsey, a high-profile consulting firm, refused.

Facing increasingly intense pressure, and even grumbling from its own staff, McKinsey came clean today, making the study and its results available for the first time. It’s going to take some time to review the materials in detail, but Greg Sargent flags one of the key initial revelations from the overview McKinsey released today.

“We stand by the integrity and methodology of the survey.

“The survey was not intended as a predictive economic analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Rather, it captured the attitudes of employers and provided an understanding of the factors that could influence decision making related to employee health benefits. […]

“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.”

At first blush, this might seem like a compelling spin. McKinsey isn’t saying employers “will” drop coverage as a result of the ACA; McKinsey is only saying that its survey shows employers “could” drop coverage.

Of course, the problem with this is what McKinley said when it published its initial report: “How US health care reform will affect employee benefits.”

Note the new statement again: “We understand how the language in the article could lead the reader to think the research was a prediction, but it is not.” Apparently, McKinley intends to parse the meaning of the word “will”?

Indeed, Republicans who’ve begun using the findings as a political weapon have no use for these nuances. House Speaker John Boehner’s office argued last week, “A survey by McKinsey & Company says businesses planning for the onslaught of ObamaCare taxes, mandates, regulations, and penalties have two choices: stop offering health care for their employees, or eliminate full-time jobs and keep wages low.”

“Not intended as a predictive” analysis? I guess Boehner missed the fine print, too.

Except, the print isn’t especially fine at all. Today’s clarification refers back to the original report, and in the description used today, McKinsey tells the reader, “The shift away from employer-provided health insurance will be vastly greater than expected and will make sense for many companies and lower-income workers alike.”

There’s that “will” word again.