Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Would the Health Reform Prescriptions Offered by President Obama and Congressional Leaders Help Patients?

Would the Health Reform Prescriptions Offered by President Obama and Congressional Leaders Help Patients? By Thomas P. Miller, Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Robert B. Helms, Joseph Antos, Doug Badger, Robert A. Book, James C. Capretta, Greg D'Angelo, Stephen J. Entin, John C. Goodman, Linda Gorman, John R. Graham, Paul Guppy, John S. Hoff, Merrill Matthews, Amy Menefee, Robert E. Moffit, Nina Owcharenko, Sally Pipes, Peter Pitts, Roy Ramthun, Grace-Marie Turner.
Health Policy Consensus Group Statement
AEI, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Health Policy Consensus Group warns that health care reform should not include a new government health insurance plan; an employer "play-or-pay" mandate, a uniform; government-defined package of benefits; a mandate that individuals must purchase insurance; a National Health Insurance Exchange extending federal regulatory powers over private insurance; or federal interference in the practice of medicine through a federal health board, comparative effectiveness review, and other government intrusions into medical decision-making. These elements are present in proposals by President Obama and congressional leaders but would ultimately reduce patient well-being.

Click here to view this statement as an Adobe Acrobat PDF with full notes

President Obama repeatedly has reassured the American people, "If you've got health care already, and probably the majority of you do, then you can keep your plan if you are satisfied with it. You can keep your choice of doctor."[1] Research shows 82 percent of Americans rate the health care they receive as good to excellent.[2]

At the same time, there are serious problems of cost, value, and access throughout our health sector. It is vital to address these problems. But any health reform proposal to change what needs fixing also must preserve the freedom, innovation, and quality of American medical care that people value. We believe a better functioning, more competitive, and transparent marketplace would cover more people and deliver the higher-value care we seek.

We are gravely concerned that several of the proposals offered by the President and the Congressional leadership would make matters worse, not better. These flawed prescriptions for radical change should not be accepted as part of any serious and sustainable health reform proposal:
  • A new government health insurance plan
  • An employer "play-or-pay" mandate
  • A uniform, government-defined package of benefits
  • A mandate that individuals must purchase insurance
  • A National Health Insurance Exchange extending federal regulatory powers over private insurance
  • Federal interference in the practice of medicine through a federal health board, comparative effectiveness review, and other government intrusions into medical decision-making
We explain below why we believe these ideas would diminish individual Americans' freedom and control over their personal health decisions.

A New Government Health Insurance Plan: A new national health plan, to be operated by the federal government, is being proposed with the claim that it would give Americans a choice between public or private health plans. While there may be initial assurances that the plans would operate on a level playing field, the government inevitably will use its regulatory, pricing, and taxing authority to favor its plan. Congress would give the government plan the power to dictate prices so it can artificially under-price private plans and drive them out of this one-sided "marketplace."

Many people then would be left with little or no choice, as employers would drop their current coverage and send their workers into the public plan. Research by The Lewin Group[3] shows that as many as 118.5 million Americans would lose or be switched out of private health coverage. This massive crowding out of private health insurance would undermine the employment-based coverage that most Americans under age 65 have today.

Once private plans have been driven out of the market, people will realize that the government plan will not be able to sustain the quality and quantity of benefits they were promised. Government instead will begin to ration care and services, driving out innovation, competition, and patient-centered quality.

A "Play-or-Pay" Mandate That Employers Must Provide or Pay for Health Coverage for Their Workers: Employers would be required to pay an unspecified "meaningful contribution" toward their workers' health insurance or pay a new tax to fund the government plan. If they are not "playing" in the new system by directly providing health insurance, then they will be "paying" to fund the government plan. It is a political certainty that the option to "pay" this new health insurance tax will be set lower than the current levels at which employers now "play" by providing their own coverage, enticing many of them to transfer their employees' insurance coverage to the mercies of the new government plan.

Whether they choose to pay or to play, small employers will be hit especially hard by a new mandate to finance all or part of the health insurance premiums for their employees, directly or through new taxes. Any initial subsidies to them will quickly be overtaken by higher mandated costs. As they absorb new tax burdens they cannot control, the result will be more lost jobs and lower wages for workers.

A Uniform, Government-Defined Package of Benefits: Decades of experience in the states confirm that whenever benefit packages are determined politically rather than by the marketplace, legislators find it very difficult to say no to anyone asking that their services and products be included. People would have a "choice" of only the expensive one-size-fits-all plan mandated by government, significantly increasing the cost of health coverage. Workers would pay for this more expensive coverage through lower wages, lost jobs, higher taxes, and lower-value health care.

A Mandate That Individuals Must Purchase Insurance: If the federal government requires everyone to purchase health insurance, it must define what qualifies as insurance. All signals indicate this would be a very expensive benefits package, designed as one-size-fits-all in theory but delivered as one-size-fits-none in practice. Sweeping government mandates create a conflict between escalating costs, limited resources, and the false guarantee of rich coverage – triggering price and supply controls.

Many individuals will need subsidies to receive coverage that otherwise would be unaffordable to them, but taxpayers will resist filling an abyss. As a result, political leaders will try to cover rising costs indirectly and invisibly – through general revenue subsidies, tax increases, deficit spending, and escalating fees, fines, and taxes imposed on employers. And to make the mandate work, the government also must establish and enforce binding penalties for individuals who do not comply.

A National Health Insurance Exchange Extending Vast Federal Regulatory Powers over Private Insurance: A new National Health Insurance Exchange is being proposed to "streamline the purchase of health insurance." It actually would steamroll over private choice and patient preferences by providing a vehicle to extend sweeping federal regulation into virtually every corner of our health sector. This would reduce choice for patients and discourage or prohibit innovation and flexibility in health insurance offerings that today are helping many companies and families balance their health costs with other needs.

Federal Interference in the Practice of Medicine through a Federal Health Board, Comparative Effectiveness Review, and Other Government Intrusions into Medical Decision-Making: Congress appropriated $1.1 billion in taxpayer funding for comparative effectiveness research in the economic stimulus bill, establishing the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research, which will assess medical treatments available to Americans. This provides an irresistible temptation for politicians to go beyond providing better information and start restricting the treatment choices available to patients. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said the intent was that drugs and treatments "that are found to be less effective and in some cases, more expensive, will no longer be prescribed."

The clear and present danger is that any centralized health board will use the cover of comparative effectiveness findings to meet budgetary bottom lines, at the expense of patients' medical needs and personal preferences. This is a particular danger to the health of people who suffer from rare conditions or who need access to specific medicines and treatments but who may lack the political power to influence the reviewers' decisions.


There are many problems that need to be addressed in the health sector, and the signatories to this statement have written extensively about our ideas for reform.[4] Because the reform agenda is moving rapidly through Congress, we believe the American public should be aware of the likely impact of the policies described in this statement which are under active consideration by elected leaders.

We believe that the proposals put forth by the Administration and Congressional leaders would harm, not help, patients and would not fulfill the goals and promises made to the American people.

The Health Policy Consensus Group is an affiliation of the policy experts from the major market-oriented think tanks and others who work together to advance patient-centered ideas for health reform. Joseph Antos* is the Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at AEI. Doug Badger is a senior fellow at the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. Robert A. Book is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. James C. Capretta* is a fellow at the Etics and Public Policy Center. Greg D'Angelo is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Stephen J. Entin is the president of the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation. John C. Goodman is the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis. Linda Gorman is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute. Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is a resident fellow at AEI. John R. Graham is the director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute. Paul Guppy is the vice president for research at the Washington Policy Center. Robert B. Helms* is a resident scholar at AEI. John S. Hoff is a trustee of the Galen Institute. Merrill Matthews is the director of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance. Amy Menefee* is the director of communications at the Galen Institute. Thomas P. Miller* is a resident fellow at AEI. Robert E. Moffit* is the director of the center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Nina Owcharenko* is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Sally Pipes is the president of the Pacific Research Institute. Peter Pitts is the director of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. Roy Ramthun is the president of HSA Consulting Services. Grace-Marie Turner* is the president of the Galen Institute. Affiliations of those signing this statement are listed for identification purposes only. The views in this statement do not necessarily reflect those of their organizations. The health policy experts whose names are followed by an asterisk served on the drafting committee for this statement.

Click here to view this statement as an Adobe Acrobat PDF with full notes

Statement On Bilateral Meeting With President Hu Of China

Statement On Bilateral Meeting With President Hu Of China
White House, Apr 01, 2009

Office of the Press Secretary


On 1 April 2009, President Barack Obama of the United States and President Hu Jintao of China met on the sidelines of the G20 Financial Summit in London, the United Kingdom. The two heads of state had an extensive exchange of views on U.S.-China relations and global issues of common interest, and reached the following points of agreement:

I. Toward Enhanced U.S.-China Relations

The two sides agreed to work together to build a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship for the 21st century and to maintain and strengthen exchanges at all levels. President Hu Jintao invited President Obama to visit China in the second half of this year, and President Obama accepted the invitation with pleasure.

The two sides decided to establish the "U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo will chair the "Strategic Track" and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan will chair the "Economic Track" of the Dialogue, each as special representatives of their respective presidents. The two sides will hold the first round of the dialogue in Washington DC this summer. The two sides stated that they will continue to advance mutually beneficial cooperation in economics and trade through the mechanism of the high-level Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade.

The two sides agreed to further deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in a wide range of areas, including economy and trade, counterterrorism, law enforcement, science and technology, education, culture and health. They also agreed to resume and expand consultations on non-proliferation and other international security topics. They welcomed further exchanges between the national legislatures, local authorities, academics, young people and other sectors. The two sides agreed to resume the human rights dialogue as soon as possible.

Both sides share a commitment to military-to-military relations and will work for their continued improvement and development. The two sides agreed that Admiral Gary Roughead, U.S Chief of Naval Operations, will visit China upon invitation in April to attend events marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The U.S. looks forward to visits by senior Chinese military leaders this year.

The two sides agreed to maintain close communication and coordination and to work together for the settlement of conflicts and reduction of tensions that contribute to global and regional instability, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Iranian nuclear issue, Sudan humanitarian issues, and the situation in South Asia.

The two sides agreed to intensify policy dialogue and practical cooperation in energy, the environment and climate change building on the China-US Ten Year Energy and Environment Cooperation Framework, carry out active cooperation in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean energy technologies and work with other parties concerned for positive results at the Copenhagen conference.

II. Strengthening Economic and Financial Cooperation

The two presidents discussed challenges facing the global economy and financial system. They pledged that, as two major economies, the U.S. and China will work together, as well as with other countries, to help the world economy return to strong growth and to strengthen the international financial system so a crisis of this magnitude never happens again.

The two presidents welcomed the fiscal stimulus measures taken by the other, and agreed that these measures were already playing a stabilizing role for the global economy. They also agreed that strong financial systems were essential for restoring growth, and they welcomed the commitment of both countries to address issues in this area. President Obama underlined the commitment of the United States to implement the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Financial Stability Plan. He underscored that once recovery is firmly established, the United States will act to cut the U.S. fiscal deficit in half and bring the deficit down to a level that is sustainable. President Hu emphasized China’s commitment to strengthen and improve macroeconomic control and expand domestic demand, particularly consumer demand, to ensure sustainable growth, and ensure steady and relatively fast economic development.

The two presidents agreed the international financial institutions should have more resources to help emerging market and developing nations withstand the shortfall in capital, and the two countries will take actions toward this goal. China and the United States agreed to work together to resolutely support global trade and investment flows that benefit all. To that end, they are committed to resist protectionism and ensure sound and stable U.S.-China trade relations.

President Hu and President Obama discussed regulatory and supervisory changes needed to reform and strengthen the global financial system, including regulatory standards. President Hu welcomed the recent U.S. announcement of a comprehensive financial regulatory reform agenda. President Obama welcomed the commitment of China to continue the development and reform of its financial system.

The Presidents agreed on the need for sweeping changes in the governance structure of international financial institutions. President Obama underscored that such changes were needed so that these organizations better reflect the growing weight of dynamic emerging market economies in the global system

President Hu and President Obama concluded that continued close cooperation between the United States and China was critical at this time to maintain the health of the world economy and would remain so in the future. They both recognized that as major economies, the United States and China have a need to work together, as well as with other countries, to promote the smooth functioning of the international financial system and the steady growth of the world economy. To this end, the two sides will exchange views and intensify coordination and cooperation on global economic and financial issues, climate change and energy, and other important issues through the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that the two countries have decided to establish.


Conservatives, Public Schools, and Pedagogy

Conservatives, Public Schools, and Pedagogy. By Andrew J. Coulson
Cato at Liberty, Apr 01, 2009

I’ve received a fair bit of e-mail in response to my commentary yesterday on the recent defunding of the Bush administration’s Reading First program. Several people questioned my assertion that the program failed to yield a significant nationwide improvement in literacy. I cited a 2008 federal government report in support of that assertion, but questions were raised as to the validity of that study and other research seeming to contradict it was presented.

Taking the latter point first, it was pointed out that an EDS study of California found a positive impact to the program, as did an NWREL study of 5 other Western states. Note that there is not necessarily any contradiction between the federal study and the California and Western states studies. It’s possible that, nationwide, Reading First was associated with academic improvements in some schools, no effect in others, and lower performance in still others, resulting in the overall lack of impact reported by the federal government study. If so, it could be that schools in which Reading First proved effective are unevenly distributed around the country, and happen to be concentrated in the West.

Another possibility is that the federal study was so flawed that it failed to find a significant positive effect to Reading First when there actually was one. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this is true and that Reading First is actually working, overall, at improving student literacy nationwide. If so, what confidence should we have that it would continue to be effectively implemented in the long term, and not displaced by something else, or altered so as to become ineffective?

The answer is: not much. As I’ve noted in the case of the Follow Through experiment of the 60s and 70s, which is typical, even when a proven method is adopted in public school classrooms and yields great success it tends to be discarded for one reason or another. Since nothing fundamental has changed in the incentive structure of public schooling since the 1970s, there is no reason to believe that Reading First would buck the trend and somehow survive in perpetutity.

But all of this is of course academic, because Congress has already defunded the program. Democrats were not interested in continuing to evaluate the program to make absolutely sure of its impact. They killed it almost immediately because it is a traditionalist pedgaogical program that appeals to conservatives rather than “progressives.”

And that was the second point of my commentary: even when effective methods are implemented in public schools they remain subject to the inconstant winds of politics. If you want to find fields where better methods roiutinely displace worse ones rather than vice versa, you have to look to the free enterprise sector of the economy. Without the freedoms and incentives of the marketplace, stagnation and declining productivity are the norm. Education is no different in this regard from any other field.

And just to be clear, I am convinced by the earlier research that the pedagogical ideas behind Reading First are sound, and that when properly implemented its systematic use of phonics is superior to most of what it would have displaced. I’m simply pointing out that there was never good reason to expect a government-protected monopoly consistently implement it effecitvely, and that even if it did for some period of time Reading First would eventually have fallen victim to shifting political winds. While some may choose to disagree on the first point, the second has already come to pass.

If we want schools around the country to continually adopt and refine the best methods available, we must create the freedoms and incentives that will cause that to happen… or get used to disappointment.

Social Security Is Running a Surplus…Oops

Social Security Is Running a Surplus…Oops. Michael D. Tanner
Cato at Liberty, April 1, 2009 @ 9:02 am

For years, opponents of Social Security reform have told us that there is no need to rush into changing the program because, after all, Social Security is running a surplus today. Well, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, not so much.

CBO reports that the Social Security surplus, originally expected to be $80-90 billion this year and next will shrink to $16 billion this year and just $3 billion next year (essentially a rounding error) as a result of the recession and rising unemployment. And those estimates may be far too optimistic. In February of this year, for example, Social Security actually ran a deficit—spending more than it took in through taxes and interest combined.

And, while CBO expects a return to modest surpluses after 2010, as the recession ends and unemployment falls, that is betting on the success of the unproven Obama economic program. If unemployment stays at current levels, Social Security will begin running permanent cash flow deficits in 2011 (eight years earlier than previously predicted).

Opponents of personal accounts have pointed out recent declines in the stock market as a reason why private investment should no longer be considered an option for Social Security reform. The evidence suggests that, even with recent market declines, private investment would still produce higher returns than Social Security. The new surplus numbers provide yet another lesson: if the economy is in such a mess that it hurts private investment, traditional Social Security isn’t going to be in any better shape.

The case for personal accounts remains as strong as ever.

Making sense of the “killer meat” study

Making sense of the “killer meat” study. By Rebecca Goldin Ph.D and Trevor Butterworth
Modest risk suggests meat in moderation, but cancer researchers warn that too much is being made of the link between diet and cancer at the expense of smoking and obesity., March 30, 2009

Hundreds of news stories last week warned people that eating red meat raised their risk for cancer and death. The headline in the Los Angeles Times health section was succinct: “Killer meat,” and the opening graph warned:

“Before you dig into another hamburger, consider this: Americans who ate the most red meat boosted their overall risk of death by 30% during a 10-year period compared to those who ate the least, according to a new study. And before you switch to cold cuts instead, keep in mind that people who consumed the most processed meat raised their overall risk of death by at least 16%.”

Actually, the study didn’t quite say this. While this large prospective study did find a modest association between dying and eating meat, the risks cited were not due to one hamburger. “Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People” which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine didn’t, as many other studies on diet have done, pool numerous, smaller studies to achieve a high number of participants. The study tracked over half a million Americans aged 50 – 71 from eight states over ten years and started with a common baseline evaluation of diet, which was then tracked through questionnaires. Naturally, self-reporting always raises questions as to whether the participants are capable of complete fidelity and recall, but the researchers appear to have conducted spot checks, as well as adjust for confounders like smoking.

The researchers compared high levels of red and processed meat consumption (meaning those people in the top 20 percent for meat consumption as a proportion of their calories) to those eating low levels of red and processed meat (i.e. those in the bottom 20 percent consumption level). To give a sense of the difference among the two groups, people with the highest red meat consumption ate almost seven times as much meat as those in the lowest group. For a man, that amounted to 68.1g/1000kcal of meat per day, which is almost a 1/3 lb burger a day (based on the 2116 calorie diet these men typically ate). Those in the lowest quintile of meat consumption ate on average 9.3g/1000, which comes out to approximately the same burger once a week. So before you panic, consider how your red meat intake compares to the people in the study.

On the other hand, there was some good news for meat lovers as well: high levels of white meat consumption seem to lower your chance of death. For those in the highest quintile of white meat consumption (which includes poultry and fish), the risk of death was associated with an approximately eight percent lower chance of death in the ten years of the study, for both men and women. But a curious feature that might temper the benefits of white meat to nonsmokers is that high levels of white meat consumption seems to raise rather significantly their risk of cardiovascular disease. You’re in luck if you’re a smoker, however; for this group, white meat intake seemed to have no relationship to cardiovascular disease.

These were the results driving the interest in the study, although weirdly, the strangest association was between high red meat consumption in men versus low red meat consumption and mortality due to “injuries and sudden death.“

That result – a hazard ratio of 26 percent (meaning 26 percent more likely) – was buried by the media. The category included death from unintentional injury, adverse effects, suicide, self-inflicted injury, homicide, and legal intervention. The authors note that the number of deaths was low, but the mechanism is not clear. The finding is a reminder that mining epidemiological data can produce strange relationships. In particular, since it seems difficult to argue for causality, it suggests that red meat consumption may be linked to other behaviors that were not controlled for by the study. Are male red meat eaters likelier to take risks? Are suicidal old men more likely to eat red meat?

While the study has rather convincingly linked high levels or red meat to increased mortality, the purported risk increase is much lower than it is, for example, between smoking or obesity and cancer. Inevitably, this means that the causal link is weaker. As with any observational study, there are some limitations to drawing a causal line between red meat and cancer mortality. The study attempted to control for these factors, but it is impossible to control for everything. There is also no way to discern from this study whether eating less meat would provide the direct benefit of the magnitude of the study. One can only assume that the people who reported high levels of meat consumption had been eating that amount of meat for their entire lives.

Wider problems in nutrition research

The other, wider problem is that while red meat has provided figurative red meat for nutrition researchers, there has been increased criticism of the dramatic claims being made for the nutritional basis of cancer from actual cancer researchers. Many of the news stories said the study supported the claims by the World Cancer Research Fund linking red meat and cancer. For example, Forbes noted:

“Though nutrition experts frequently recommend eating less meat, Mozaffarian says research linking red and processed meat consumption and mortality weren't consistent. But last year, when the World Cancer Research Fund International reviewed the scientific literature on red meat intake and cancer, researchers determined a link between the two.”

Reuters quoted Ian Olver, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Council Australia, saying that:

“This large study provides further evidence to support the recommendations by groups such as the World Cancer Research Fund in demonstrating an association between a high consumption of red and processed meats and a increase risk of death from cancer.”

But as STATS previously noted, the World Cancer Research Fund only managed to do achieve this link by excluding the largest ever study examining the association, whose publication had been delayed for three years after the results were initially made known. Those results did not show a link between cancer and meat consumption. The Harvard Pooling Project, which conducted that meta-analysis, and other recent research have thrown a wrench into the conventional scientific wisdom about nutrition and health, and the exclusion of some of its key studies from the World Cancer Research Fund has left some cancer researchers troubled.

A recent editorial in the Journal of Oncology written by the director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Boyle et al, Oct 2008) warned that smoking and obesity as significant causes for cancer were being minimized in the face of weak evidence for diet.

"In presenting its summary and recommendations, the [World Cancer Research Fund] report implicitly downplays the key importance of tobacco smoking in cancer causation. Contrary to that stated in the press release (the best advice for cancer prevention is to avoid weight gain), avoiding tobacco smoking and use of tobacco in other forms is the single best advice to reducing cancer risk as one-third of cancer deaths in high-income countries is attributable to tobacco use. Failure to include ‘stop smoking’ and ‘avoid exposure and exposing others to second-hand smoke’ among the 10 key recommendations undermines the most important message in cancer control. The ‘best advice’ also fails to mention the importance of a variety of established cancer risk factors including sun behaviour, occupational exposures, chronic infections and use of exogenous hormones."

At the same time, the evidence presented by the WCRF for diet’s role in cancer had gotten weaker:

"‘We think we know’ or, more accurately, ‘we thought we knew’ that a high-fat diet and low consumption of fruits, vegetables and fibres were associated with increased risks of common cancers. However, faith in the cancer prevention properties of fruits and vegetables began to crack when all the available evidence was critically reviewed by an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group. Subsequently, it has crumbled as major analyses of prospective studies have continued to demonstrate consistently a lack of association between intake of fruits and vegetables and risk of several cancers. This major change in classification of one the few agents classified by WCRF in the category of strongest evidence in 1997 casts doubt on the rationale to classify ‘convincing’ to the evidence linking high meat intake to colorectal cancer risk in the current report. This also raises questions about the evaluation process and about the robustness of the classification system."

But the IARC noted

"The substantial review of the evidence in the WCRF report demonstrates that there is no discernible association between many forms of cancer and specific dietary practices. There are still some very interesting hypotheses to pursue, such as the value of an approach on the basis of the food patterns (e.g. the Mediterranean diet score) rather than individual foods and nutrients, but the cupboard is remarkably bare."

The failure of science to come up with robust conclusions about diet and cancer is one of the emerging "inconvenient truths" in public health (the other is that diets don't really work), and both are at odds with giving the public clear, comprehensible guidelines for diet. This new study has been hailed for building on existing evidence that red meat consumption is linked to cancer, but good reporting would include the naysayers as well as the yaysayers; scientific consensus is never built with one study alone.

How efficient are the solar panels that were inspected by President Obama?

How efficient are the solar panels that were inspected by President Obama? By Todd Shepherd
The Denver Museum of Science isn't telling. But you are helping to foot the bill for the solar array that won't pay for itself until the year 2118.
The Independence Institute, Mar 31, 2009

Before signing the $787 billion stimulus package into law on Feburary 17, 2009, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden toured an array of solar panels on top of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The photo-op allowed the President to once again extol the virtues of the coming “green” economy.

According to the Denver Post's article on the event, “The sun generates enough energy on the museum rooftop to power about 30 homes.” However, that claim cannot be verified at this time, and in fact, seems to be belied by the scant information provided by the museum and other sources.[1] Laura Holtman, Public Relations Manager for the Museum said in an email, “Because the array generates less than 5 percent of the Museum's power, [the purchased energy] is not a particularly large bill.”

The Independence Institute asked the Denver Museum of Science and Nature to provide certain statistical information regarding the now-famous solar array. Specifically, the Institute asked for:

1 ) Two years worth of electric bills prior to the installation of the solar array,
2 ) All electric bills following the completion of the installation.

The Museum denied those requests.

The solar array is not owned by the Museum, however. It is owned by Hybrid Energy Group, LLC. HEG owns the solar array, sells the electricity to the Museum, and receives tax incentives from the state and federal governments, while also receiving “rebates” from Xcel Energy. The rebates are funded by a surcharge collected on the monthly bill of every Colorado Xcel customer.

A 2008 article in the Denver Business Journal sheds further light on the subject. The article notes the total price of the solar array was $720,000. And Dave Noel, VP of operations and chief technology officer for the Museum, was quoted as saying, “We looked at first installing [the solar array] ourselves, and without any of the incentive programs, it was a 110-year payout.” Noel went on to say that the Museum did not purchase the solar array because it did not “make sense financially.”

Additionally, most solar panels have an expected life-span of 20 to 25 years.

So how can Hybrid Energy Group afford to own a solar array that not even the museum would buy? In part, HEG gets “rebates” from Xcel's “Solar Rewards” program. The Solar Rewards program is a response to Colorado voters passing Amendment 37 in 2004. The Amendment mandated that Colorado utilities procure a certain percentage of their power generation from renewable resources like wind and solar.

“Amendment 37 really should have been called a tax,” said Independence Institute President Jon Caldara. “And it would have been interesting to see whether it would have passed if the ballot language had started off with the phrase, 'shall there be an increase in energy taxes?' For those of you who are Xcel customers, look at your bill and find the line that says 'Renew. Energy Std. Adj.' Then realize that you are paying this “adjustment” to buy solar panels which the museum has admitted that without any government subsidization wouldn't pay for themselves until the year 2118.”


HEG also uses state and federal tax “incentives” in order to be able to own a $720,000 solar array that produces such a minute cash flow, compared to the rest of the Museum's monthly power expenses.

The fact that solar energy may currently only be viable due to engineering of the tax code means that citizens may not have all the information when weighing the costs of “green” projects, says Barry Poulson, Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado, and Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.

“Colorado citizens need to know that these policies will result in a significant dislocation of our industries, a fall in income and employment, and rising costs to consumers. These burdens will fall primarily on low income families. Nowhere in these proposals for a 'new Energy Economy' is there any discussion of the costs that these policies will impose on Colorado citizens.”


[1] Additionally, the claim in the Post article that “The sun generates enough energy on the museum rooftop to power about 30 homes,” is regretfully lacking a crucial time context. Does the power for 30 homes last one hour, one day, one week, one month?

Journalism Professor Rates Health News

Journalism Professor Rates Health Studies. By Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D.
American Council on Science and Health, March 31, 2009

Here at ACSH we’ve complained for years that health-related stories in the popular media often pay scant attention to the scientific accuracy and importance of the studies they report on. For example, we’ve seen preliminary studies reported at scientific meetings given equal weight with studies that have undergone peer review and are published in respected scientific journals. As we’ve noted in several publications, problems range from misleading and alarmist headlines to a basic misunderstanding of the difference between association and causation in the results of epidemiologic studies.

Now we’ve come across some valuable help -- an Internet site published by journalism professor Gary J. Schwitzer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Professor Schwitzer has an extensive background in journalism and puts it to good use on his Health News Review site. The good professor analyzes and critiques health-related news stories, explaining why a particular article presents its topic accurately and clearly -- or why it doesn’t. He rates stories with up to five stars, and details what the standards are for the ratings. We’re pleased to find such a useful resource and hope our readers find it valuable as well.

Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., is Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health