The Cost of Health Care Reform

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The day after Obama’s major health care address to Congress, it’s anyone’s guess whether last night’s events — and the GOP”s antics – altered the debate over health care reform (and I’m not going to speculate).

But I did notice that both Obama and Charles Boustany, the Louisiana Congressman who gave the GOP response, talked a lot about how much the reform plan is going to cost.

Obama stressed that the plan’s price tag — $900 billion over 10 years — was less than the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and less than the 2001 Bush tax cuts. The president also stressed that implementing a government-run plan (the much-discussed public option) as part of the reform would lower health care costs.

Rep. Boustany, in the GOP response, said just the opposite:

Replacing your family’s current health care with government-run health care is not the answer. In fact, it will make health care much more expensive. That’s not just my personal diagnosis as a doctor or a Republican. It’s the conclusion of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the neutral scorekeeper that determines the cost of major bills.”

So who’s right?

Mostly Obama is. The whole point of a public plan — which would lack the massive overhead and profit margins of private insurers — is to force down the cost of health insurance. And contrary to Boustany’s claim, the Congressional Budget Office never concluded that a public option would make health care more expensive. What the CBO did report in July is that adding a public option to the health care reform bill would lower the bill’s price tag. A public option would save taxpayers an estimated $150 billion over 10 years. Details on the CBO report here.

The take-home message is this: There are certainly legitimate reasons to oppose the public option, especially if you happen to believe in limited government. But cost isn’t one of them.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.