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A Dismal Review of the Dems’ Health Reform Plans

Just hours after President Obama reiterated his plans for overhauling the nation’s health care system to trim costs and cover the 46 million people estimated to lack insurance, the Congressional Budget Office came out with a grim analysis of one major Democratic proposal designed with the same goals in mind.

Draft health reform legislation introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) — leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — would cost $1 trillion over the next decade while reducing the number of uninsured by only 16 million, CBO found. It’s hardly the dramatic improvement to the health care system that Kennedy — a long-time health reform advocate — had in mind as a legacy.

In a letter to Kennedy and Dodd, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf was quick to emphasize that those numbers will likely change as the bill language becomes more specific. Democrats on the HELP panel, for example, had excluded in their draft earlier plans to expand Medicaid and offer a government-backed insurance option — provisions that might surface later in the debate and increase the numbers of the newly-insured.

Yet, depending on how the legislation evolves, the numbers could also get worse for the Democrats. CBO, for example, scored the HELP proposal under the assumption that it will eventually include an individual mandate for health coverage — something it doesn’t currently do.

On the basis of our discussions with the committee staff, we understand that it was the committee’s intent to impose a clear requirement for individuals to have health insurance, and this analysis reflects that intent. However, the current draft is not clear on this point, and if the language remains ambiguous, that would affect our estimate of its impact on federal costs and insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, reports are emerging that the White House is already distancing itself from the HELP proposal.

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