Policy-ish

Health Care: The Ultimate Budget Buster

With the federal deficit already measured in the trillions of dollars, it's not easy to grab people's attention with projections of deeper red ink.

budget director peter orszag testifies i

Budget director Orszag testifies at a June hearing. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
budget director peter orszag testifies

Budget director Orszag testifies at a June hearing.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

But then came a White House forecast Tuesday that said the budget shortfall over the next decade is expected to top $9 trillion, nearly $2 trillion more than a prediction made earlier this year.

Right now the government is borrowing a ton to repair the country's financial system and to stimulate the economy. Tax revenue is also way down. But increases in spending on health loom large in the years to come.

As the administration's budget director Peter Orszag put it on his blog:

[W]e need to address the key driver of our long-term deficits: health care costs. The federal government simply cannot be put on a fiscally sustainable path without slowing the rate of health care cost growth in the long run.

Put your money where your mouth is, says a Washington Post editorial. The worsened outlook for the deficit, which puts the national debt at more than 4 percent of GDP through 2019, and isn't sustainable, the Post writes, in agreement with Orszag. That makes a health overhaul that meaningfully reduces costs more urgent than ever, the paper says.

The bleak budget picture might just focus legislators on coming up with a health overhaul that will target costs. An unnamed administration official told the Wall Street Journal, "One would be very hard-pressed to call a $2 trillion addition to your [10-year deficit] forecast helpful, but this really does heighten the urgency" to deal with health-care spending.

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