CBO To Issue Cost Estimate Of House Health-Care Bill Within Two Weeks

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The Congressional Budget Office is planning to release the week of May 22 an assessment of how the health-care legislation that the House just passed will impact federal spending.

In a blog post on Wednesday, the CBO said that its staff and Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation expect to issue the cost estimates early that week. The notice did not say whether the analysis of the Republicans’ Affordable Health Care Act will include a forecast of how the bill would affect the number of Americans with health insurance, and a spokeswoman for the office said she did not have that information.

The pending estimates are significant because the House GOP leadership rushed through Thursday’s vote on the legislation – which polarized even factions within the chamber’s Republican conference – without waiting for the CBO’s budget analysts to size up its fiscal and insurance coverage impact.

The bill, which squeaked through the House on a vote of 217 to 213, has now migrated to the Senate. That chamber’s parliamentarian is responsible for deciding which parts of the legislation fit within criteria so it can be considered through a special budget “reconciliation” process for spending matters, which would make it easier for Republicans to pass. The parliamentarian is not allowed to begin that review without the CBO’s analysis.

In March, the CBO looked at the original version of the House bill, which is intended to dismantle major aspects of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Its initial estimates triggered a political firestorm that especially singed moderate House Republicans, who faced widespread complaints from their constituents. It left Democrats relatively unscathed since none supported the bill.

According to those previous estimates, House Republicans’ original bill would have caused 24 million more Americans to be uninsured by 2026, more than reversing the coverage gains that the ACA has made through new insurance marketplaces for people who cannot get affordable health benefits at work, as well as through an expansion of Medicaid.

The analysis also forecast that the House bill would have lowered the federal deficit during the decade by $337 billion, mainly by spending less on Medicaid and subsidies for most people buying health plans through the ACA marketplaces.

Since that forecast, the legislation was altered in several ways as House GOP leaders struggled to gather enough votes for it to pass.

The current bill would allow states to jettison two of the ACA’s consumer protections: a rule forbidding insurers to charge customers with preexisting medical conditions more than other individuals, and a rule that requires insurers to include specific “essential health benefits” in all plans sold to individuals and small businesses.

The final House version also would increase new pots of money the bill would give states to try to control insurance prices. At the last minute, $8 billion also was added to help people with preexisting medical problems who live in states that revert to letting insurers charge such customers higher rates.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Amy Goldstein

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