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In Our View: Don’t Dismiss CBO Report

GOP owes it to country to take hard look at consequences of health law overhaul

The Columbian
Published: March 15, 2017, 6:03am

Republicans were quick to dismiss the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the GOP’s health care proposal. So quick, in fact, that they didn’t wait for the results.

Even before Monday’s announcement, congressional leaders were denigrating the nonpartisan CBO as “meaningless” and a “red herring” and “consistently inconsistent.” So it comes as no surprise that, following the results, conservative gadfly Newt Gingrich called for the abolishment of the office that works for Congress and whose director, Keith Hall, was appointed by Republican leaders in 2015.

As for us, we think it is instructive to take a look at the Congressional Budget Office’s findings on the health care plan Republicans unveiled last week. Officials predict that under the American Health Care Act, the number of Americans without health insurance would increase by 24 million over the next decade; at the same, there would be the benefit of slicing the deficit by $337 billion.

The report found that, under the Republican plan, the number of uninsured Americans next year would be 14 million more than under the current Affordable Care Act. That would be caused largely by the end of a mandate that people carry insurance or pay a tax, but later growth in the number would be attributed to a lack of access and affordability.

Supporters of the Republican plan have suggested that the numbers are inaccurate. Which brings up some pertinent questions: What if they are half-right? What if they are one-quarter right? The Congressional Budget Office projections might be off the mark, but let’s say that 12 million fewer Americans have insurance a decade from now? Does that make America great?

The answer is no. Having access to health care strengthens our nation by strengthening families while also holding down costs for those of us who do have insurance. Returning to a system in which the uninsured rely upon emergency rooms for health care and do not have access to preventative care will only increase the bills for everybody else.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement: “It’s astounding that any elected official could support an effort to throw tens of millions of people off of coverage, spike premiums, gut Medicaid, target seniors for higher health care costs, and throw our health care system into chaos.” With that, Murray touched upon the talking points that Democrats will carry into the legislative battle over the Republican proposal. She also touched upon the reasons that some caution is required.

Throughout last year’s campaign, Republicans promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare. So it is no surprise that they are working quickly to fulfill that promise. But the issue of health care requires thoughtful deliberation. While Democrats were criticized for the manner in which they passed Obamacare in 2010 — with nary a Republican vote — the fact is that the process took more than eight months from the time a proposal was released until it was signed into law.

This time around, Senate leaders have said they want to vote on the proposal by early April — barely one month after it was unveiled. That is not nearly enough time for people to know what is in the bill. Input must be sought from insurance companies, from governors whose states have expanded Medicare, from health care workers and, most important, from the American people.

Republicans in Congress can question and criticize the Congressional Budget Office report if they so desire. But they would be foolish to ignore it.