Obama backtracks on health reform costs

Saturday, September 11, 2010- Charleston Post & Courier


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama told voters repeatedly during the health care debate that the overhaul legislation would bring down fast-rising health care costs and save them money. Now, he's hemming and hawing on that.

So far, the law he signed earlier this year hasn't had the desired effect. An analysis from Medicare's Office of the Actuary this week said that the nation's health care tab will go up, not down, through 2019 as a result of Obama's sweeping law, though the increase is modest.

Obama offered some caveats when asked in his news conference Friday about the apparent discrepancy between what he promised and what's actually happening so far.

A look at two of the claims at his news conference and how they compare with the facts:

Obama: Said he never expected to extend insurance coverage to an additional 31 million people "for free." He added that "we've made huge progress" if medical inflation could be brought down to the level of overall inflation, or somewhere slightly above that.

The facts: Those claims may be supported in the fine print of the plan he pitched to Congress and a skeptical public months ago. But they rarely were heard back then. "My proposal would bring down the cost of health care for millions -- families, businesses and the federal government," he declared in March.

On Friday, he conceded: "Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do." The goal: "Slowly bring down those costs."

Obama: "We took every idea out there about how to reduce or at least slow the costs of health care over time."

The facts: One idea that most experts think would do the most to control health costs -- directly taxing health benefits -- was missing in Obama's plan. Opposition from unions and others was too great, and Obama himself had campaigned against the idea.

Some of the major cost controllers that did make it into the law -- including a tax on high-value insurance plans -- don't start until 2018. That tax was watered down and delayed.