The Corner

CBO Strikes Again

As it has become clear that the Democrats’ health-care proposals are outrageously expensive and that their various proposals for savings (like computerizing medical records and improving preventive care) wouldn’t come close to covering the cost, President Obama and his allies in Congress have turned to a new magic formula for cost savings: a panel of experts that will figure out how to make Medicare much more efficient, and then will make recommendations on which the Congress would vote up or down, but could not change. My colleague James Capretta and I discuss this idea, among other turns in the debate, in the new Weekly Standard here. As the president described it in his news conference on Wednesday, this would be an “independent group of doctors and medical experts who are empowered to eliminate waste and inefficiency in Medicare on an annual basis — a proposal that could save even more money and ensure long-term financial health for Medicare.”

Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a document that examines the potential of this idea, and (as has happened every time their claims in the health-care debate have been examined in detail) the news is not good for the Democrats. Will the council of experts save enough money to help offset the trillion dollar program now being contemplated? Here’s CBO:

CBO estimates that enacting the proposal, as drafted, would yield savings of $2 billion over the 2010–2019 period (with all of the savings realized in fiscal years 2016 through 2019) if the proposal was added to H.R. 3200, the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, as introduced in the House of Representatives. This estimate represents the expected value of the 10-year savings from the proposal: In CBO’s judgment, the probability is high that no savings would be realized, for reasons discussed below, but there is also a chance that substantial savings might be realized.

Their best assessment, in other words, is that the idea could save $2 billion over ten years, or in the neighborhood of two-tenths of one percent of the amount the Democrats want to spend on their health-care program in that period. But the probability is high that it wouldn’t even save that much.

It’s no wonder this was released on a Saturday morning.

Yuval Levin — Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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