House Speaker John Boehner made waves by declaring that President Obama’s national health care law should be “on the table” in end of the year talks on how to avert the “fiscal cliff” and achieve a deficit reduction compromise. As Joel Gerhke reported, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded by telling reporters that “the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit considerably.”
This is not accurate. It’s true that the Congressional Budget Office does project that the national health care law will reduce the deficit, because the estimated savings from its Medicare cuts and money raised from tax increases offsets the new spending. But the resulting deficit reduction is only $109 billion from 2013 through 2022. By way of comparison, the White House Office of Management and Budget projected earlier this year that if Obama’s budget were adopted, deficits would increase by $6.7 trillion over that same time period. So, far from “considerably” reducing the deficit, even taken as a whole, Obamacare reduces the deficit by 1.6 percent over the next decade.
Of course, the law need not be viewed as a whole for the sake of deficit reduction talks, because while some provisions of the law (namely, the tax hikes and Medicare cuts) are projected to reduce deficits, other provisions of the law dramatically add to the deficit. The CBO estimates that the two largest provisions (the expansion of Medicaid and subsidies for individuals to purchase insurance on new exchanges) will cost about $1.7 trillion over the next decade.
Now, considering that Obama staked his entire presidency on pushing the health care legislation through Congress, successfully defended it in court, and survived reelection, I’d say the odds that Obama will touch his defining accomplishment are about the same as Howard Dean becoming the next chairman of the RNC. But, as a pure mathematical matter, there is plenty of room to save money by making Obamacare’s benefits less generous.