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A Numerical Sleight of Hand


When I served in the Bush administration, we worked to implement a Congressionally mandated rule to end restrictions on HIV-positive people entering the U.S. One of the sticking points in the implementation we encountered was an assessment by the career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control that the new rule would increase the HIV-positive population in the US by 37,780, with an annual cost to taxpayers of $952 million dollars in 20 years, and a cumulative cost of $12.7 billion over the 20-year period.

The Politico now reports that the Obama administration put out a new implementing regulation ending the ban with these same numbers, but then pulled it back in favor of a revised regulation claiming that the rule would only increase HIV cases in the US by 676. As for the cost, they now estimate it to be $342 million annually in five years. The main justification for the switch is that they moved to a five-year rather than a 20-year window, but the fact remains that they adjusted the numbers to reduce the “sticker shock” on the policy.

I cannot imagine the extent of the hubbub that would have ensued if the Bush administration had tried this tactic. I wonder if those who accused President Bush of politicizing science will object to this numerical sleight of hand, but somehow I doubt it.


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