Conflicting interpretations abound regarding CBO’s report about cost, coverage of Affordable Care Act

By Tara Kaprowy
Kentucky Health News

Since the Congressional Budget Office released a report with revised estimates about how many people the Affordable Care Act will cover and how much it will cost, it has spawned a whirlwind of op-ed pieces with vastly opposing interpretations.

According to Julian Pecquet in The Hill, the estimate showed the federal health-care reform law will allow 30 million more people to get insurance coverage by 2016, down from the previous estimate of 32 million. Thus, the law’s coverage provisions are now estimated to cost $1.083 trillion over the next 10 years, $50 billion less than last year’s projection.
The CBO also estimates that 4 million Americans will lose their employer-sponsored health insurance by 2016, not the mere 1 million figure projected last year. It also estimates that 1 to 2 million fewer people will qualify for state health-insurance exchanges than initially thought, but an additional 1 million will qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Provision, known in Kentucky as K-CHIP.
“CBO faults a slower than anticipated recovery for the soft numbers, along with technical changes to CBO’s estimating procedures and legislative changes adopted over the past year,” Pecquet reports. The changes in cost estimates are “due in part to slower growth in health-care spending resulting in an 8 percent drop in premiums, as well as taxes and penalties paid by employers and their workers as struggling businesses cut down on employer-sponsored coverage,” Pecquet writes.

Conn Carroll, senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner, has an entirely different view, saying the cost has doubled. “The gross cost of President Obama’s health care law has risen from $940 billion when the bill was passed, to $1.76 trillion today. This did not sit well with Obamacare’s leftist apologists,” he writes. Carroll uses gross figures to arrive at his calculations.

Carroll is comparing apples to oranges, and the estimate hasn’t doubled, writes Ezra Klein of The Washington Post. “The disparity in the cost estimates only comes when you take a different sample of years, in which the law is doing different things, in an economy of a different size. And even then, costs went up only if you take “gross” costs rather than “net” costs, which is a rather unusual way to think about the budget.”

Paul Krugman of The New York Times weighs in too, but not on the numbers. He does say, “For all its imperfections, this reform would do an enormous amount of good. And one indicator of just how good it is comes from the apparent inability of its opponents to make an honest case against it.”
Krugman said “most of the disinformation” about the reform is about costs. “Each new report from the Congressional Budget Office is touted as proof that the true cost of Obamacare is exploding, even when — as was the case with the latest report — the document says on its very first page that projected costs have actually fallen slightly.”
CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf defended in his blog the changes in estimates. “We will continue to update our estimates regarding health insurance coverage as new information becomes available about the implementation of the ACA, underlying trends in the health-care and health financial systems, and the probable responses to the legislation by businesses, families and others.”
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