Politics & Policy

Obama’s Wrong Numbers

O’care will cost more than W.’s prescription drugs.

While Ted Cruz’s impressive anti-Obamacare filibuster on the Senate floor was causing Americans to tune in to C-SPAN with unusual eagerness, President Obama and former president Bill Clinton were meeting in the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in New York City to discuss Obamacare from a different angle. Theirs was a historic meeting, uniting on the same stage the man whose health-care legislation (named after his wife) cost the Democrats control of the House of Representatives in 1994 and the man whose health-care legislation (named after himself) cost the Democrats control of the House in 2010 — each time in spectacular fashion.

For whatever reason, the two presidents chose not to talk about the prospect of Obamacare’s costing the Democrats control of the Senate in 2014. But Obama did grant this much about Obamacare: “Polls show that it’s not popular.” (Five separate times at the event, he called it “Obamacare,” making one wonder why any conservatives ever call it by the ridiculously inaccurate name of “the Affordable Care Act”—which, like “Obamacare,” isn’t its official name.) Obama tried to chalk this unpopularity up to unfamiliarity — “the devil you know is always better than the devil you don’t know” — but perhaps it’s actually attributable to the fact that Obamacare means higher health costs and deficits; reduced quality of care and job growth; more centralization of money and power in the nation’s capital; and less liberty for the American people.

A Sports Illustrated story once described how some unscrupulous golfers will assume a 1-putt. If they’re on the green in four, they’ll simply assume they would have made the putt, and they’ll put a 5 down on the scorecard. It wasn’t until playing with Clinton, the SI reporter observed, that he realized there’s such a thing as a golfer who will assume a no-putt: If Clinton was on the green in four shots, he was known to put a 4 on the scorecard. Taking a page out of Clinton’s playbook, Obama was in no-putt mode during portions of their event.

For example, as he so often does, Obama referred to Obamacare as providing “universal health care.” But the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says (see Table 1) that there are currently 55 million uninsured people in America (not all of them citizens or even legal residents). The CBO projects that, by 2023, in the absence of Obamacare, that number would rise to 56 million. Far from saying that Obamacare would cover those 56 million uninsured people, however, the CBO projects that Obamacare would cover just 25 million of them — or a little under 45 percent. That’s a far cry from “universal coverage.” And that’s after a full decade (2014–23) of Obamacare.

The CBO projects (see Table 2) that, over that same decade, the gross cost of Obamacare’s insurance-coverage provisions alone (which isn’t remotely the entire cost of the legislation) would be $1.8 trillion — with those costs rising by more than a quarter of a trillion dollars a year from there. That’s a ten-year cost to taxpayers of $72,000 per newly insured person — not exactly a great bang for the taxpayer buck.

It’s fun to compare these numbers with the CBO projections from 2010, the year that the Democrats passed Obamacare into law against the clear will of the American people. Back then (see Table 4), the CBO claimed that, after ten years (201019 — the span the Democrats liked to use at the time), Obamacare would cover 58 percent of the uninsured (compared with 45 percent under current projections) at a cost of $938 billion (compared with $1.8 trillion now) or $29,000 per newly insured person (compared with $72,000 now). Obamacare hasn’t even really gone into effect, yet it’s already not aging well.


At another moment, Obama said, “I think it’s really important to point out here that the total cost of the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance for every American out there at an affordable rate is costing about the same amount over the course of ten years as the cost of the prescription-drug bill that President Bush passed.” The problems with this statement are that, as observed above, Obamacare wouldn’t come close to providing “health insurance for every American” over ten years — the CBO projects that it would fall 31 million Americans short — and that it’s projected to cost $1.8 trillion over its real first decade (2014–23), while the total cost of the Medicare prescription-drug plan (Medicare Part D) over its real first decade (2006–15) is projected to be $649 billion (see Table III.D3). That’s about a 3-to-1 ratio, not “about the same.”

But, hey, what’s a $1.151 trillion misstatement — or a no-putt — among friends?


— Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the newly formed 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda.


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