Fun with Numbers: CBO Estimates from Wonderland
History shows that estimating the costs of a health care entitlement is a fool's errand.
March 19, 2010 - 12:00 am
Sleight of hand, double counting, magical thinking — one would think we were talking about a Houdini memorabilia convention and not the most important piece of domestic legislation in more than a generation. But in service to saving Obama’s presidency, anything is allowable.
Besides, does anyone really believe the CBO has a handle on how much this Gargantua is going to cost? Or how much we’re going to save? Or how much it will cut the deficit 20 years from now?
History is an unforgiving vixen. What the past tells us about the future is that never in the history of entitlement spending have estimated costs ever come anywhere near the actual expenditures. And the further out the predictions, the more spectacularly inaccurate they become. This is especially true of health care entitlements, as this Washington Times article points out:
In 1965, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that the hospital insurance program of Medicare — the federal health care program for the elderly and disabled — would cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual cost that year was $67 billion.
In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee said the entire Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990. The actual cost in 1990 was $98 billion.
In 1987, Congress projected that Medicaid — the joint federal-state health care program for the poor – would make special relief payments to hospitals of less than $1 billion in 1992. Actual cost: $17 billion.
With a track record like that, why believe anyone who projects anything about any health care entitlement? The answer is those who want to believe, or need to believe, or are pressured to believe that the CBO’s numbers reflect reality have no choice. They have locked themselves into bringing this abomination into existence and projections be damned. They will do their utmost to give the president a legislative victory despite the fact that history is most assuredly going to make liars out of all of them.
Meanwhile, the cheering being done by health care reform proponents is bizarre. The bill will cut the deficit by $138 billion over 10 years, says the CBO. Meanwhile, that same organization predicted in August that the total federal deficit over that same period is going to be $7.14 trillion.
What happens if opponents are right and these CBO numbers bear no resemblance to reality? Obviously, ObamaCare will add substantially to an already preposterous deficit. And the trillions in actual spending that national health care will incur doesn’t include additional “fixes” that Congress will be forced to make once it becomes clear that reality has knocked those pretend CBO numbers into a cocked hat. Subsidies for citizens to buy insurance will almost certainly rise as the cost of premiums skyrocket — a fact of life in Massachusetts where mini-me ObamaCare has been the law since 2006 and projected costs are already way out of whack with actual expenditures.
None of this matters — not the CBO, not history, not the cautionary tale that is RomneyCare, and certainly not the warnings from responsible lawmakers, economists, health care professionals, and others who insist this bill will not do what Democrats claim it will do. The only thing that matters to the Democrats is achieving a triumph for President Obama. And if that means destroying the health care system, impoverishing future generations, and threatening the individual liberty of American citizens, so be it.
Power has its own logic. In this case, it is a logic glimpsed through a looking glass where up is down, black is white, and political whims are substituted for the will of the people.