The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Doug Holtz-Eakin is starting a new health-care think tank

The politics of health care may, for the moment, be mired in gridlock. But Republican policy analyst Douglas Holtz-Eakin thinks the time will come when his party will stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Democrats will start trying to fix it.

When that day arrives, both sides will need help charting a path through the health policy wilderness. So Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this week opened the virtual doors of a new think tank known as the Center for Health and Economy.

Unlike your average think tank, the center is not dedicated to developing its own policy prescriptions. Instead, it is intended to help lawmakers, members of the media and the public assess ideas put forward by others.

“I think the Affordable Care Act is the beginning of health reform, not the end,” Holtz-Eakin said in an interview. “We’re going to be talking about this for the foreseeable future, and it’s important to inform that debate.”

The center aims to be nonpartisan, and Holtz-Eakin has assembled an impressive board of academics, including Mark Pauly from the Wharton School of Business, known as the father of the individual mandate, and Princeton’s Uwe Reinhardt. But for now, at least, the center relies on a start-up grant from the American Action Forum, Holtz-Eakin’s very partisan employer.

Holtz-Eakin, who worked in the George W. Bush White House and advised 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), acknowledged that conservative bias is “a fair concern.”

“But frankly, it’s a concern I faced when I went from the White House to CBO, so I’ve been through this territory before,” he said. “You have to have the institution set up so it can be nonideological. And in the end, the quality of the work solves the problem.”

So far, Democrats may have cause to question the center’s political leanings. Its Web site features a critical analysis of the ACA that challenges the CBO’s conclusion that the law will reduce federal budget deficits. But over time, Holtz-Eakin hopes it will gain a reputation for fair analyses of proposals from both parties, with a special focus on the impact on health premiums and efficiency of care.

“A realistic assessment is that a durable, successful health care reform will be bipartisan in nature. And that means it will include some things that are in the Affordable Care Act. I see no way around that,” Holtz-Eakin said.

“Plus,” he said, “not everything in it is terrible.”