Sunday, June 10, 2007

Patrick McIlheran Strikes Out on Wisconsin's Teachers

Patrick McIlheran would fail an elementary statistics class if he submitted his latest hit, rather “quick hit,” on Wisconsin’s teachers.

The piece is a classic illustration of the statistical fallacy of data manipulation- presentation of data in a misleading way to support a hypothesis which is without merit.

McIlheran notes that Wisconsin’s public schools spend 26% of their budgets on benefits and suggests that it is teachers with their ”mutant sized health care package” who are responsible for cuts in art and music classes. That’s like blaming Wisconsin’s drivers for the increase in gas prices!

What McIlheran fails to note is that health care costs in southeastern Wisconsin are between 31% (2004) and 26.5% (2006) higher than the rest of the country.

A 2004 study by the non-partisan, United States General Accountability Office found that hospital inpatient charges are 63% higher in the Milwaukee area than the national average. The same report also documented that physicians' prices were 33% higher than the average of 331 metro areas.

Overall, Milwaukee-area hospitals ranked fifth in price and area physician fees rank 16th.

So, of course, health care costs will be higher for Wisconsin’s teachers and the school districts that employ them than their counterparts in other states where health care costs are significantly lower!

Health care costs as a percentage of employee compensation, the statistic McIlheran conveniently cherry picks, is higher in Wisconsin because our teachers’ compensation is capped by the Qualified Economic Offer (QEOs) law. As health care costs increase, salary increases are held down. In some districts they have actually been frozen. As a result, health care costs as a percentage of compensation increase!

Here's are some additional salient facts that McIlheran ignores: while health care costs increased at more than three times the rate of inflation from 1994-95 to 2004-2005, Wisconsin's teachers' salaries fell 9.6% when adjusted for inflation. In 2004-05 Wisconsin's average teacher salary was 7.1% below the national average teacher salary.

But we hear nary a word from McIlheran about the Wisconsin’s soaring health care costs, the market dominance of Wisconsin’s health care providers that allows them to charge monopoly prices and secure monopoly profits or declining teachers' pay.

Satirist Mark Twain must have had writers like McIlheran in mind when he sarcastically urged: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

9 comments:

Russ said...

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Russ said...

Michael, you seem unaware that all Wisconsin citizens are dealing with increasing health care costs. Unlike teachers, private sector workers, can not demand taxpayers pay for Rolls Royce health insurance that they can not begin to afford for themselves. Furthermore many, if not most, school districts insist on the WEA Trust health insurance which is grossly overpriced in comparison to other insurance providers. Innovative private sector companies are adopting HSAs with major medical plans. The cost savings are substantial. And yes, believe it or not, most private sector employees actually have to pay a higher percentage of the cost of their health insurance. They do this not because they want to, they do because they must, if they want to stay in business. Now please, don't insult our intelligence. When teachers, and all government workers for that matter start sharing the pain of rising health care costs with the private sector workers then we will listen to you.

Jay Bullock said...

Russ, at what point is it ever helpful to try to tear down someone esle? You're asking the wrong question. It isn't, Why is those teachers' health care so much better than mine? Rather, it's, Why isn't my health care as good as those teachers'?

American employers began offering health insurance as a way to attract workers. Government jobs--which often (but not always) pay less than the private sector still use benefits as a draw. It's not fair that the private sector is abandoning health care and pensions and the like--but it's also not teachers' fault.

Russ said...

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Russ said...

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Russ said...

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Russ said...

Jay, the private sector pullback on health care and pensions has nothing to do with fairness. It's a question of survival. Many American companies compete head on with Asian companies that pay only a fraction of what US workers make. Often workers are given a choice, make concessions or lose your job. That is today's economic reality. If the American private sector worker must take wage and benefit cuts to maintain employment then so to must the public sector worker take cuts. As I said before the public worker MUST share the pain.

Gina said...

Once again people are pitting worker vs. worker instead of looking at the root of the problem. It shouldn't be a question of who has better benefits, rather someone should have to answer for the astronomically high health care costs in Wisconsin. And as Jay pointed out, it is time to improve health benefits for all, not penalize any sector of the workforce.

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