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The Disaster That Didn’t Happen: Health Reform’s Excellent Cost Numbers

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014   

RICHMOND, Va. – Not long ago, the airwaves were filled with predictions that health-care reform would be a disaster for taxpayers and consumers.

That hasn't happened. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as "Obamacare," will cut the federal budget deficit by $100 billion – even as it has added health insurance coverage for about ten million people, by federal estimates.

Paul Van de Water, senior fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the reform has been able to do this because it's had real success at one of its key goals: holding down the cost of health care.

"The growth of health care costs has been at close to historic lows, both in the public programs – that is, Medicare and Medicaid – as well as the private sector," says Van de Water.

The overall federal deficit has dropped dramatically. It's now projected to total nearly $5 trillion less by 2020 than was expected just four years ago.

Perhaps more importantly, says Van de Water, the ACA is improving the health of the vital Medicare program, which is threatened by an influx of millions of baby boomers.

"Medicare will continue to need adjustments, but it's clear that health reform has made Medicare's prospects better, not worse," he says.

Another prediction that hasn't come true yet is that premiums would skyrocket. Van de Water says the huge variation in the cost of insurance makes it difficult to describe a simple pattern. But he says it looks like slowing the rise in health-care costs has helped keep the price of premiums in line, especially in the new insurance exchanges.

"Premiums in the health-insurance exchanges have turned out to be lower than what the Congressional [Budget] Office was originally projecting," he explains. "Now, premiums are still going up, but it's likely that they're going up by less than what would have otherwise been the case."

Some critics still argue that health-care reform will be a disaster, but that position is not getting a lot of support from the data. Other critics have simply fallen silent.



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