KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Costs To Government, Consumers Remain Unclear In Finance Bill

The effect of a health overhaul on the country's finances is hard to predict. The Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper for new legislation's price tag, tends to miss the mark on bigger bills, the office's director said, Bloomberg reports. When it comes to "more dramatic or novel changes in policy, there's no previous experience to refer to. ... While CBO can look to places such as Massachusetts where some of the ideas such as requiring people to get insurance have been tried, 'what happens when a whole set of reforms is put together, as many proposals now before Congress would do, is much more uncertain,' [Doug Elmendorf} said."

For instance, estimates for a the Medicare drug benefit stretched to $518 billion. Over three years, it ended up costing $382 billion. Last week, the office said a version of the reform bill in the Finance Committee would not add any costs to the federal deficit, a condition set by President Obama (Faler, 9/24).

Also unclear is exactly what impact health reform would have on consumers' expenses. The Chicago Tribune/Tribune Newspapers report that while the bills under consideration by Congress would all require individuals to buy health insurance, "so far, at least, lawmakers have rejected provisions that would directly shield consumers from the kinds of sharp premium increases that have become the norm in recent years. Health care premiums have more than doubled the in past decade. 'We are about to force at least 30 million people into an insurance market where the sharks are circling,' said California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a Democrat who once was the state's insurance commissioner. 'Without effective protections, they will be eaten alive.' ... Democrats have shied away from regulating premiums in the face of charges from business leaders and Republicans that controlling what insurers charge would be meddling too much in the private sector" (Levey and Oliphant, 9/24).

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