The Heath Care Summit: The First Point Of Contention

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

Part of the problem with getting health care reform done, is that both sides are arguing from a different set of facts, rather than opposing policy.  This, of course, shouldn't be: facts are facts.

Watch this disagreement between President Obama and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on the issue of whether health care premiums would go up under the Senate Dems' reform plan.  President Obama cites the CBO to say that premiums will go down; Alexander cites the CBO to say that premiums will go up.

They're both citing the same source, so only one can be right.  Who is it?

President Obama:

Lamar Alexander and Barack Obama just had a contentious exchange on this point, so it's worth settling the issue: Yes, the CBO found health-care reform would reduce premiums. The issue gets confused because it also found that access to subsidies would encourage people to buy more comprehensive insurance, which would mean that the value of their insurance would be higher after reform than before it. But that's not the same as insurance becoming more expensive: The fact that I could buy a nicer car after getting a better job suggests that cars are becoming pricier. The bottom line is that if you're comparing two plans that are exactly the same, costs go down after reform.

I'm not accusing Lamar Alexander of intentionally lying or anything like that.  It's just that he doesn't understand the issue very well, and that's why he misread the CBO report.  And that's another, perhaps even greater, reason why health care reform is slow to get accomplished.  The people who are opposed to it simply don't understand it.

On the other hand, two other Republicans also took Alexander's (incorrect) position that the CBO said the premiums would go up.  Clearly, they are going from the same talking points.  And who is preparing those talking points?  Insurance lobbies.

UPDATE: See also PolitiFact on this issue:

On Nov. 30, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, released a detailed analysis on how health insurance premiums might be affected by the Senate Democrats' health care bill. The CBO is an independent agency whose estimates for pending legislation are considered nonpartisan and rigorous.

The CBO reported that, for most people, premiums would stay about the same, or slightly decrease. This was especially true for people who get their insurance through work. (Health policy wonks call these the large group and small group markets.) People who have to go out and buy insurance on their own (the individual market) would see rates increase by 10 to 13 percent. But more than half of those people — 57 percent, in fact — would be eligible for subsidies to help them pay for the insurance. People who get subsidies would see their premiums drop by more than half, according to the CBO. So most people would see their premiums stay the same or potentially drop.