Michael Tanner
The health care reform bill unveiled by House Democrats last week looks increasingly like one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in history.

When Democrats announced the bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed the bill cost only-only!-$894 billion over the next ten years. But outside analysts, including the Congressional Budget Office, suggest that the real cost will be far, far higher.

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The CBO, for example, points out that the bill would actually increase government spending by slightly more than $1 trillion. Democrats reported a lower "net" number by subtracting revenues from penalties paid by individuals and businesses that fail to comply with the bill's insurance mandate. But even that does not reflect the bill's true cost.

The Democratic leadership simply shifted some of the bill's cost to other bills. For example, for purposes of the health care bill, the Democrats assume that a currently scheduled 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements will take affect next year. However, at the same time, they have introduced a separate bill repealing those cuts at a cost of $250 billion, so that cost isn't technically part of health care reform. And your household budget would look so much better if you didn't have to pay your mortgage and car payment. (The Senate just tried to do something similar, only to have the cynical ploy rejected 53-47, with 13 Democrats refusing to play along.)

If you count that cost honestly, the bill's cost rises to nearly $1.3 trillion. And that still understates the bill's cost.

The CBO provides ten year projections of a bill's cost, between 2010 and 2019 in this case. But most provisions of the health bill don't take effect until 2014. So the "10-year" cost projection only includes six years of the bill. Again, consider your household budget. Wouldn't it be great if you could count a whole month's income, but only two weeks expenditures? If we look at the bill more honestly over the first 10 years that the programs are actually in existence, say from 2014 to 2024, it would actually cost more than $2.3 trillion. And, this doesn't include approximately $200 billion in additional spending for public health programs, a reinsurance program for retiree health care, and new preventive care programs that was added to the bill after it was submitted for official "scoring." So call the total cost somewhere in excess of $2.5 trillion.


Michael Tanner

Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.