Medicare Growth: What’s the story behind the story?

Another data visualization assignment:

By Kevin R. Convey, Catherine Featherston and Corrie Lacey

The subject of Medicare and how it should be funded going forward was a major point of contention in the just-ended presidential campaign – and is a significant part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations now underway.

Indeed, Medicare is one of three major federal entitlements now amounting to 10 percent of GDP and threatening to double to 20 percent by 2050 if no changes are made – creating what some have called an “untenable debt burden”.

But to understand where we’re going, it may help to understand where we’ve been.

First, take a look at the number of Medicare recipients by state:

Next, look at the surprisingly steep increase in the number of disabled persons receiving Medicare. The program was revised in 1973 to include them as well as the elderly:

But when you compare the number of disabled receiving Medicare to the number of elderly in the program since 1973, it becomes clear that the increase in elderly recipients is driving the growth of the program — not the disabled:

The data make it clear that tinkering with the categories of people who receive Medicare isn’t going help solve the current funding crisis — only a change in the level of benefits provided or the way in which they are provided will have any impact.

Medicare trends

Final version of The Happiness Project

In this last revision, we abandoned the Powerpoint-like, linear-storytelling mode of earlier tries and embraced the interactive potential of Hype/Tumult by making the map, buttons, images and links all live.

By Albert Brea and Kevin R. Convey

What is happiness?

And, more importantly, what are the elements of happiness – the things that make us happy?

These are hardly idle questions. Since the beginning of civilization, they have occupied philosophers, formed the basis of religions and bedeviled leaders of every stripe. More recently, they’ve animated the hit parade, crowded best-seller lists and kept the waiting rooms of mental health professionals overflowing.

Indeed the most common answer to one of life’s most elemental questions – “Why are we here?” – is “to be happy.” Still, that answer begs the question: What goes into making us happy?

As we enter what for some is the happiest time of the year – featuring, in rapid succession, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day – and what for others is the gloomiest period of the year, the subject of happiness and its components takes on renewed interest.

Every year, the Gallup Organization conducts a detailed poll on the subject of happiness in the United States, measuring dozens of variables and producing a portrait of happiness by state. We wanted to know how the age-old metrics of health, wealth, and wisdom –-Ben Franklin’s “healthy, wealthy and wise” nostrum correlated with happiness by state. And though Franklin didn’t mention it, we were also curious about the role religion plays in happiness.

Here’s how we visualized those questions — and our answers:

What Makes People Happiest in the Happiest States?

So, clearly, Ben Franklin was right about some of the components of happiness: Our measures of health, wealth and wisdom correlated strongly with states’ happiness as ranked by Gallup.

And it’s fortuitous that a tacked-on question we almost didn’t ask because Franklin didn’t ask it – the impact of religion on happiness – tied our findings up nicely.

Our discovery that states with the highest numbers of religious residents tended to score low on the happiness index seemed counter-intuitive until we examined it in the context of our earlier findings. Presto: The most religious states ox iframe link:were also largely states that ranked low on measures of health, wealth and wisdom.

The exact relationship of religion to this package of negative variables remains as unclear as the chicken-and-egg conundrum. Do people living in states afflicted by low health, employment and education indicators seek out religion for solace or do more deeply religious tend to be less healthy, less employed and less educated?

That’s one that even Franklin might have a tough time with.