The CBO Scores The Republican “Health Care” Plan

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

The House Republican caucus has been working behind closed doors since June on a health care plan. Last week — five months later — they unveiled their plan.  Key features: it does nothing for the uninsured, nothing for those with pre-existing conditions, and nothing for those worried about losing coverage when it's needed most.  Republicans admit this — they say that their bill is designed to cut health care costs (mostly by capping damage awards when doctors are negligent and remove the wrong organ), not to provide for more and better health care insurance coverage.

The main reason why the Republican plan is so different is because Republicans have a different view of what the problem with health care is.  The problem, according to Republicans, isn't that millions don't have coverage, or that insurance companies can drop your coverage as soon as you get sick.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), a new ringleader for right-wing activists, stated plainly what the "problem" is, according to the GOP:

"The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too overinsured," he said.

There it is, the right's philosophy on American health care in 17 words. Most of us think the problem with the existing system is that we pay too much, get too little, and leave too many behind. Dick Armey sees the existing system and thinks we'd all be better off with less coverage.  It's all premised on the notion that health insurance encourages medical treatments. If we have coverage, we might get tests and procedures that we wouldn't get if weren't so darned insured. Less coverage means fewer costs.

Josh Marshall recently explained:

The problem is that you go to the doctor and agree to take the tests the doctor recommends. Shadegg and Hoekstra want a system where if your doctor suggests a biopsy for a suspicious lump you think about the pros and cons. Is it worth the money? Do you have the money? How suspicious is the lump anyway? Maybe you get the first one. But not necessarily the follow up scan six months later.

This is the essence of the Republican plan: the fact that you're insured and aren't directly feeling the cost of individual tests and procedures is the problem and getting rid of the insurance concept is the solution…. [T]he problem according to most Republicans in Congress isn't that there's not enough insurance or that it's not good enough. It's that there's too much. The problem is that you have insurance. And good policy will take it away from you.

Of course, if you don't have insurance, you don't even get to make that choice.

But let's see move past the features of the GOP plan and see what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says about it.  Ezra Klein summarizes:

Late last night, the Congressional Budget Office released its initial analysis of the health-care reform plan that Republican Minority Leader John Boehner offered as a substitute to the Democratic legislation. CBO begins with the baseline estimate that 17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance in 2010. In 2019, after 10 years of the Republican plan, CBO estimates that …17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance. The Republican alternative will have helped 3 million people secure coverage, which is barely keeping up with population growth. Compare that to the Democratic bill, which covers 36 million more people and cuts the uninsured population to 4 percent.

But maybe, you say, the Republican bill does a really good job cutting costs. According to CBO, the GOP's alternative will shave $68 billion off the deficit in the next 10 years. The Democrats, CBO says, will slice $104 billion off the deficit.

The Democratic bill, in other words, covers 12 times as many people and saves $36 billion more than the Republican plan. And amazingly, the Democratic bill has already been through three committees and a merger process. It's already been shown to interest groups and advocacy organizations and industry stakeholders. It's already made its compromises with reality. It's already been through the legislative sausage grinder. And yet it saves more money and covers more people than the blank-slate alternative proposed by John Boehner and the House Republicans. The Democrats, constrained by reality, produced a far better plan than Boehner, who was constrained solely by his political imagination and legislative skill.

This is a major embarrassment for the Republicans.

Epic EPIC fail.