“IT’S JUST not believable,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Monday, after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected the GOP’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill would result in 24 million more Americans without coverage.
Here’s what is not believable: Mr. Price’s prediction that “our plan will cover more individuals at a lower cost and give them the choices that they want for the coverage,” a claim that expert after expert has deemed a fantasy.
Many Republicans are doing everything they can to discredit the nonpartisan CBO. But the office backed up its projections with solid and transparent economic analysis. Even as he criticized the report, Mr. Price admitted he had not read it. So what, other than wishful thinking, inspired his attacks? An expert score of his own? If he has one, his office would not share it with us when we asked Tuesday.
One major line of attack for Mr. Price and other Republicans is that Obamacare is so bad that almost anything else would be better. “Right now, current law, we’ve got individuals who have health coverage but no health care,” Mr. Price said. But the GOP bill would make this problem worse, allowing insurers to hike out-of-pocket costs. Meanwhile, the CBO discredited the argument that Obamacare is collapsing, concluding that the insurance market would be stable under current law.
The other major complaint is that the CBO scored only one of three stages of the GOP reform effort, not the whole picture. But a second stage — legislating further changes under normal parliamentary procedures in the Senate — would require 60 votes and is highly unlikely to happen. Another stage — Mr. Price promulgating rules changes from his perch at HHS — has yet to be fleshed out. If House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the Trump administration want to hang the defense of their plan on yet-to-be-revealed policy changes, they should reveal the full package before proceeding further. In the event, it is unlikely that further deregulation would improve the health-care prospect for most Americans. In fact, Mr. Price’s rules changes would likely make it easier for insurers to sell plans that catered to young, healthy and wealthy people and left older, sicker and poorer folks struggling to obtain decent coverage they can afford.
For his part, Mr. Ryan claimed satisfaction with the CBO report: “If you’re not going to force people to buy something they don’t want to buy, they won’t buy it,” he said on Fox News. In fact, the CBO concluded that the Republican bill would make insurance coverage significantly more expensive for older people and that, unsurprisingly, low-income people between 50 and 64 — that is, the ones who need the most help — would disproportionately “choose” not to buy insurance, bearing the brunt of predicted coverage losses.
There are some voices of reason within the GOP. “Let’s say the CBO is half-right; that should be cause for concern,’’ said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “So rather than attacking the CBO . . . I would think the prudent thing for the party to do is to look at the CBO report and see if we can address some of the concerns raised.”
Here’s one other suggestion: Make the minor tweaks Obamacare needs and move on to solving genuine problems rather than creating new ones.