Health reform’s feint costs

Low estimates lead to disturbing conclusions about party goals.

Rania Abuisnaineh

Have you heard the good news about the health care reform bill that was proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.? Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., put out a statement Nov. 19 that began with these two paragraphs: âÄúThe Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that the Senate bill goes a long way in delivering access to quality, affordable health care to all Americans in a fiscally responsible way. The bill cuts the budget deficit by $130 billion over the first 10 years and by as much as $650 billion in the next decade. It is fully paid for and will not add one dime to our nationâÄôs debt. âÄúThe Senate bill puts an end to insurance industry abuses that deny individuals coverage for pre-existing conditions and drop coverage if you get sick. It makes Medicare more sustainable and protects seniorsâÄô benefits. And it expands health coverage to 31 million Americans who do not have coverage now.âÄù Oh boy! Not only will this bill reduce the budget deficit by billions of dollars, it also will not add to the national debt, and it will expand health care coverage to what amounts to about 10 percent of the U.S. population. How could this be possible? What brilliance could have put together a bill that accomplishes, simultaneously, abnormal feats of money-saving and a healthy expansion of care? In laymanâÄôs terms, these feats are being accomplished via impressive number fudging by the Democrats. The CBO is the federal agency that estimates spending for Congress, but this estimation uses some Enron-style accounting to make the outlook appear far rosier than it actually is. The claim that the budget deficit will be cut by $130 billion dollars in the next ten years ignores the fact that the new plan is not going to be fully implemented until 2014. Of the spending that will happen in the next decade âÄî $848 billion, according to Reid âÄî just $9 billion will be in the years leading up to implementation, and $839 billion will come in the next six years. I have put forth the official statement about the billâÄôs cost by the Democrats, but what about the Republican stance on the bill? According to Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, if the cost is assessed from 2014 onward, it would amount to $2.5 trillion. The figure Democrats have put forth is equivalent to talking about a mortgage as if you paid for the first four years before ever living in the house. And as for the viability of the numbers the CBO has put out, regardless of time frames, it is a joke to think they could be accurate. The most recent form of the bill is around 2,000 pages, and it includes so many programs that useful, realistic or accurate accounting is simply speculation. The senior economic writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Stephen Moore, said of the bill, âÄúWe know how we got in this national debt crisis in the first place âĦ We created these entitlement programs, we never paid for them, they get bigger and bigger like a monster, and weâÄôre doing it again. And the CBO says to the American people this will pay for itself. ItâÄôs free.âÄù He is right; it is stupid to repeat that mistake again, but Democrats seem determined to do so. Whether you agree with the health care reform bill or not (and it is difficult to believe anyone could have a good opinion with its mind-numbing length), it is simply wrong to misrepresent the cost of this bill to the American public. It is an insult both to those who oppose and those who support reform. When I found out about these cost estimations and the facts behind their procurement, I felt as if I was the mark in some sort of con. To use smoke and mirrors to conceal the true cost of the bill is just about the lowest way an elected representative could treat their constituents, much less affect sustainable progressive change. While I find it disturbing congressional Democrats would use these tactics, there is a lot of pressure on them to really make this bill shine. Are the Democrats simply nervous to appear as do-nothings with their undisputed majority? Midterm elections are never too far down the line for a legislator, but an even more important election may be at stake as well. Using cost estimates that only take into account the next ten years instead of the ten years following the actual implementation of the program leads me to believe that the election Democrats are truly concerned about is the one that would lead to the re-election of President Barack Obama. If the true costs of this historic health care bill were to be known prior to the next presidential election, perhaps things would turn out differently than what currently feels like the ObamaâÄôs assumed second term. Maybe the increased tax burden the bill puts on people will bring things into focus in the next three years. I just hope the American public is not hoodwinked into believing that this bill will please everybody, because as President Abraham LincolnâÄôs saying goes, âÄúYou can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.âÄù This bill is no exception.