EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 13, 2009

How to spend a trillion dollars

Who will be paying for health care reform?

Paying for health care reform could be the biggest doctor's bill ever.

Providing insurance for the 47 million uninsured, offering a public insurance option to the range of private plans, and subsidizing premiums for the poor will be enormously expensive — around $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Yet President Obama insists we can have reform without adding to the federal deficit or raising taxes on most Americans.

"I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future," the president said in his address to Congress on Wednesday. "I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period."

That has some economists scratching their heads. Even Congress' own financial analysts say it isn't so.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis of H.R. 3200, the main health care reform bill before the House of Representatives, says the reforms would cost $1.2 trillion over 10 years and add $239 billion to the federal deficit.

CBO also looked at a plan formulated by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee. A June report indicated that plan would add $1 trillion to the deficit over 10 years — but the CBO cautioned that its analysis was based on incomplete data. The actual deficit impact of the HELP plan would likely be lower.

There has yet been no public CBO analysis of a bipartisan, compromise plan being hashed out by the Senate Finance Committee under its chairman, Max Baucus, D-Montana.

Baucus has said his bill will cost less than $900 billion and reduce the federal deficit. However, the Senate Finance bill abandons the so-called "public option" — a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Many House Democrats say they will not support a health reform initiative that lacks the public option.

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