Andrew Henderson and a local police department are at it again.

Henderson, who was acquitted by a Ramsey County jury last year for refusing to stop taping police and an ambulance crew in Little Canada, was detained by St. Paul police this month for taping cops to see if they wore seat belts at the same time they were enforcing seat belt use.

A police spokesman tells the Pioneer Press that officers wear their seat belts “99.9 percent of the time.”

The St. Paul city attorney tells the newspaper that his office will work with the police department “to clarify the rights of way applicable to the sidewalks around the public-safety buildings in the area.”

La Crosse, Wis., the city described by Planet Money last year as “the town that loves death”, is getting Vox’s attention today for the same reason: Most people there have a plan for dying.

For several decades, planning for death has been part of the health care regimen in La Crosse, not much different than having blood pressure checked.

People were uncomfortable when doctors and nurses first started asking patients in the 1980s whether they had plans for end-of-life care, but they got over it without the braying about “death panels” that wasted the time and energy of the rest of the country.

The story of La Crosse — and how its approach to end-of-life care is quickly, quietly spreading across the Midwest — gives some reason to be optimistic about the future of end-of-life care in America.

It suggests that it is possible to move beyond death panels, and for doctors to have frank conversations with patients about how their life will end. The trick, it seems, is making these conversations feel like a natural part of the doctor-patient relationship, rather than a mandate imposed by a menacing bureaucracy.

The only problem is this: for programs like La Crosse’s to work on a national level, the federal government is eventually going to have to get involved — and pay doctors for this type of service. Is that something America will ever be ready for?

By 2008, 95 percent of the people in La Crosse had a health care directive. Researchers found those who died received the care they wanted.

People who die in La Crosse spend 32 percent less in the last six months of their lives compared to the average Medicare patient.

This suggests something broken about the way end-of-life care usually works: it is much more intense than patients desire. When patient preferences are known — as they almost universally are in La Crosse — people tend to select less aggressive courses of treatment.

And this is what has earned the La Crosse model so much praise: it’s shown a meaningful reduction in health spending as a side effect of respecting patient wishes.

The La Crosse model is spreading to the rest of the state, without state money.


It started a similar program — Honoring Choices — five years before La Crosse and supporters asked for state money in this legislative session.

“The day we introduced our legislation someone else dropped a bill relating to physician-assisted suicide,” says Sue Schettle, executive director of the Twin Cities Medical Society. “And I was thinking, ‘If there’s ever day where this issue would blow up, this was it. I was dreading reading the next day’s newspaper.'”

But the blowback didn’t happen, suggesting that in at least two states, people are pretty practical about what’s coming.

We don’t do polls at this news organization anymore and with good reason — you can’t trust them and news organizations are risking a lot when they put that trust in the hands of third-party pollsters to issue polls under their brand.

MPR pulled out of the polling business in 2012 to spend the money on other endeavors. The move came two years after its pollster showed an out-of-whack gubernatorial race just before the final election in 2010.

Today, the New York Times’ Upshot column casts further doubt on the value of polls, examining the secrecy surrounding their methodology and tactics.

For example, they often are so afraid that they’re wrong, that they release results at the same time as other polls showing similar results, known as “herding.”

There is strong evidence that some firms have engaged in herding. Ahead of the 2012 presidential election, surveys by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Democratic firm, showed an unusual pattern. As voters’ preferences shifted, the estimated racial composition of the electorate shifted as well. When President Obama lost support among white voters, for instance, the poll would include more nonwhite voters than a previous survey had. As a result, the top line results remained fairly stable.

Tom Jensen, Public Policy’s director, said that these shifts were a result of randomly deleting respondents until the sample matched PPP’s expectation for how respondents said they voted in 2008. But the practice was not enumerated in the firm’s public methodology statement, and the public releases of the survey did not include the statement.

There is no way to be sure if other pollsters engage in similar practices or defensible decisions with obvious consequences for the result. If they did, we probably wouldn’t know.

But there’s at least a suspicion that the polls are cooked.

It’s possible to figure it out when the polling firms release methodology and microdata, but that doesn’t often happen until months after the poll is released and is widely quoted.

New standards have been proposed, but polling firms have been reluctant to climb aboard the movement.

That’s worth remembering as we get into the insufferable political horse race season.