ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The latest round in the battle over the Obama health care plan has to do with some pretty startling survey results. The report comes from consulting firm McKinsey and Company. It says nearly a third of businesses are likely to stop offering health insurance to their employees when the new law takes full effect in the year 2014. And that was quickly seized upon by the president's critics.
But some serious questions have been raised about this study. And now, Democrats are demanding more information about how it was conducted.
Joining me in the studio to sort out some of this is NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner. Hi, Julie.
JULIE ROVNER: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And to begin, let's be blunt. There have been enough surveys and studies on what last year's health care law might or might not do to fill library shelves, if not entire libraries. What so different about this one to make it so important?
ROVNER: Well, there's two things. First, McKinsey is a very well-respected firm in the health policy community. And second, the finding that almost a third of employers said they would, quote, "definitely or probably stop offering health insurance in the years after 2014," was really quite eye-popping. And it was one that obviously was going to be repeated a lot by opponents of the law.
SIEGEL: And this finding is actually quite different from that of lots of other studies that have posed the same question?
ROVNER: Absolutely and by a lot. The Congressional Budget Office, the Rand Corporation, the Urban Institute, several other groups have all looked at the question of how many employers are likely to drop coverage under the law. And remember, most employers will have to pay a penalty if they do that. And all of those studies have found a likely change will be much smaller.
But you don't have to just look at studies to wonder about this. There's at least one real world example and that's up in Massachusetts, where they've required individuals to have health insurance for four years now. And in Massachusetts, access to employer health insurance has actually increased. It's gotten easier.
SIEGEL: On the other hand, one could say the economy is a moving target; this is a study that's come out with a different finding but not necessarily an incorrect finding. What is it about this study that raises eyebrows?
ROVNER: Well, what really got people suspicious was that McKinsey has been refusing to release its methodology - how it did the study. They said they interviewed 1,300 employers for this study. But no one knew whether they were large employers or small employers, which makes a very large difference. We didn't know if they talked to human resources directors or to owners of companies. So they might not have even surveyed the people who can make the decisions about whether companies will continue to offer health insurance.
And I spoke to several independent pollsters, including people at the American Association for Public Opinion Research. They said while they're not the polling police, if someone does a survey and refuses to release its methodology - that raises a big red flag.
SIEGEL: And then the politicians got into it.
ROVNER: That's right. Democrats, of course, are worried that this number will take hold. We're already seeing Republican presidential candidates using it out on the campaign trail. So yesterday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and nine top House Democrats basically demanded that McKinsey release the methodology it used to do the survey. Now, McKinsey says it will, although we haven't seen it just yet.
SIEGEL: Julie, is there a chance that this study is accurate and that all the other studies are actually underestimating how many employers think they'll probably drop coverage after 2014?
ROVNER: Well, there is. And I've talked to at least one health policy consultant today, who I do trust a lot, who does believe that.
But, you know, there's another important point about all of this. One pollster I spoke to pointed out that even if the survey is valid, there's so many things that are still unknown about how the law will actually roll out between now and 2014. There's regulations still to come, it's still unknown what these health insurance exchanges will look like. There's other things that are still yet to be decided.
It's likely that no employer really knows what they will or won't do in 2014 or slightly after that. So you really need to take all of these surveys with a really big grain of salt.
SIEGEL: Okay, that's NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner. Thank you.
ROVNER: You're welcome.
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