Policy-ish

Dual Reports Provide Fodder For Health Law Critics

Two separate government reports released yesterday will give health overhaul critics plenty to chew on.

Two different reports and two different pricetags. i i

hide captionHow much will this health bill cost, anyway?

iStockphoto.com
Two different reports and two different pricetags.

How much will this health bill cost, anyway?

iStockphoto.com

One suggests the cost of health care will rise because of the changes, and the other, that millions will face fines because of a controversial requirement that everyone buy health insurance.

First, the Congressional Budget Office said 4 million middle class Americans would face fees in the neighborhood on $1,000 a head in 2016 because they will not meet the new requirement to get coverage.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, an outspoken critic of the new law, said yesterday, "The mandate is a tax increase that hits middle-class America the hardest," and breaks Obama's pledge not to up taxes on people earning less than $200,000 a year. The CBO also said three-quarters of the people facing the penalty would earn less than about $60,000.

Just for the record, many Republicans were for the mandate before they were against it.

Later in the day, the Medicare agency's chief actuary circulated a report concluding the health law would increase spending by 1 percent rather than rein costs in as promised.

That finding basically jibed with what actuary Rick Foster has been saying about the overhaul all along.

Foster also said the overhaul will expand insurance to 34 million people — more than earlier estimated — but that the change "could lead to price increases, cost-shifting, and/or changes in providers' willingness to treat patients with low-reimbursement health coverage."

But, there are a few bright sides. Even as the overhaul may push the costs of health care up for many, Medicare patients may get lower premium rates out of the deal, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Foster also said that the bill may curb costs in the long run, but that savings over the next 10 years could be washed away by a flood of new spending. So basically Congress needs to stick to the planned cuts into the future, or face unpopular price increases.

Students of Medicare lore will recall that Foster was the very same actuary who tangled with the Bush administration as lawmakers debated the Medicare drug benefit. An internal health department investigation found that then-Medicare chief Thomas Scully threatened to sack Foster if he released a report saying the legislation would cost more than Congress was ready to spend.

Weaver is a reporter at Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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