Policy Matters is a quarterly series of reports that provide timely research and guidance on issues that are of concern to policymakers at the local, state, and national levels.

Volume 1, Issue 2 by Kevin M. Esterling, is entitled: When is Policy Analysis Used in Congress: The Case of Medicare Policy.


Executive Summary

This report examines the extent to which members of the US Congress pay attention to policy analysis as they hold hearings on the Medicare program. Why are some hearings on the Medicare program better informed than others, in terms of expert research and policy analysis? Are members of committees sometimes receptive to analytical arguments and evidence-based debate, and other times not? Are there ways to improve the conditions that foster informed discussion and debate in congressional committee hearings?

An examination of Congressional hearings on Medicare between January 2000 and December 2003 indicates that congressional committees tend to have a high demand for policy analysis when they are considering ways to finance benefits, including prescription drug coverage, and expanding services for preventative medicine. Committee members have a lower demand for information when considering mechanisms for regulating health care providers. One salient difference between issues with a high information demand and those with a low demand is whether legislators already know their positions prior to a hearing. Many of the financing issues for Medicare are non-partisan, non-ideological and pragmatic, where members simply wish to learn how to “get it right.” On the other hand, members have a low demand for information on ideological issues, and often use hearings to express opposition to regulation and to the regulatory state itself. Having the ability to identify issues where committee members care about analysis has practical implications for policy analysis, issue advocates, political scientists, and citizens in general.

Kevin Esterling is assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of The Political Economy of Expertise: Information and Efficiency in American National Politics (University of Michigan Press, 2004). He was previously a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of California, Berkeley and a postdoctoral research fellow at Brown University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago in 2000.