A Government Accountability Office study from last month was released to the public for the first time Tuesday. It shows that if the cost-containment measures put in place by President Obama's health care law prove unsustainable or ineffective, then the law will add substantially to the nation's long-term debt.
The report had been requested by the ranking Republican member of the Senate Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama. It estimates that over a 75-year period, the health care law could add government debt equal to 0.7 percent of the nation's economic output. Though the report itself doesn't contain a dollar figure, Sessions' office said the GAO confirmed to his staff that this would translate to $6.2 trillion. At a hearing Tuesday morning, Sessions said the report contradicted Obama's pledge that health care legislation wouldn't add a dime to deficits. In fact, it may add 62 trillion dimes.
Proponents of the law may note that the GAO report holds forth some hope. It says that if all of the proposed savings and tax increases remain in place, then Obamacare will in fact reduce the deficit overall. But the health care law contains a number of cost-containment experiments that some have argued may not produce the projected cost savings -- or indeed, any cost savings at all. Given the varied experiences of different providers and hospitals, it may prove impossible for some or most institutions to realize equivalent efficiencies by trying common approaches.
The other problem is one of political sustainability. Once the cuts go into effect, political pressure will almost immediately emerge to undo as many cuts as possible. Obamacare's cuts to Medicare providers' reimbursement rates provide a prime example. Skeptics, including the former chief actuary of Medicare, have argued that some health providers -- especially providers serving the poorest and least-healthy Americans -- will find their rates cut so dramatically that they will have to stop accepting Medicare patients.
This will severely reduce Medicare patients' access, effectively causing a reduction in benefits. After all, if you have to drive four hours or wait a month to see a doctor, that definitely counts as a benefit cut. When these efficiency measures and others are rolled out, there is a substantial chance that lawmakers will feel overwhelming pressure to undo the proposed cuts, thus increasing the cost of the health care law. This would render Obamacare completely useless or even counterproductive with respect to one of its major stated goals -- the reduction of health care costs.
Unfortunately, to paraphrase former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., we will have to implement Obamacare before we find out what's in it. With implementation moving apace, Americans may not like what they find in the future any more than they do now.