The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) launched its latest mistaken Obamacare-related estimate this week, predicting that a House-passed bill to repeal and replace the embattled law would lead to 23 million more uninsured people by 2026.

Although CBO itself acknowledges that this latest prediction is “especially uncertain,” one thing is especially certain: CBO is wrong.

We explain why at greater length in a new Galen Institute paper that can be found here.

This week’s Washington panic attack over health reform wasn’t diminished by the Congressional Budget Office’s unreliable prediction record, though CBO did manage to introduce new fears into the debate: Namely, the budget scorekeepers claim the House bill could degrade the quality of insurance. This editorializing could use some scrutiny.

Without government supervision of insurance minutiae and a mandate to buy coverage or pay a penalty, CBO asserts, “a few million” people will turn to insurance that falls short of the “widely accepted definition” of “a comprehensive major medical policy.” They might select certain forms of coverage that Obama Care banned, like “mini-med” plans with low costs and low benefits. Or they might select indemnity plans that pay a fixed-dollar amount per day for illness or hospitalization, or dental-only or vision-only single-service plans.

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The political world waited with rapt attention Wednesday for the oracles at the Congressional Budget Office to release their cost-and-coverage predictions for the revised House health reform bill. CBO confirmed that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is a major fiscal dividend, cutting taxes by $992 billion, spending by $1.1 trillion, and the deficit by $119 billion over 10 years. However, CBO says 14 million fewer people on net would be insured in 2018 relative to the ObamaCare status quo, rising to 23 million in 2026. The problem with this educated guess about enrollment is that CBO’s models put too much confidence in the effectiveness of central planning. CBO’s projections about ObamaCare enrollment are consistently too high and discredited by reality year after year.
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President Trump has proposed a budget that increases government spending from $4 trillion today to $5.5 trillion in 2027. Only in the alternative reality of Washington can this be described as “budget cuts.” Looking at individual programs, it is a gross mischaracterization to state that spending on Medicaid programs will be cut. The new budget proposes to increase federal Medicaid spending from $378 billion a year today to $524 billion a year in 2027. It shows how far removed Washington is from everyday Americans for this increase of $146 billion to be called a cut. The fundamental problem is that special interests are addicted to the rising path of spending. Altering this path by increasing spending at a slower rate opens change-makers to extraordinary attacks.

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Obamacare is collapsing. Its utter failures become more obvious by the day. We all remember the promises of Obamacare, chief among them that the “Affordable Care Act” would lower health care costs. The opposite has occurred. Despite the offer of subsidies through the exchanges, enrollment in Obamacare has been dismal. Younger, healthier individuals have little interest in paying exorbitant premiums for insurance plans that come with $5,000 deductibles. The result has been an unbalanced insurance pool where insurers must charge ever-increasing premiums to continue offering coverage.

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In new research published by the Mercatus Center, I analyze the causes and impact of the much higher-than-expected enrollment and spending associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansion. Though unpredicted by Washington experts, the results were predictable. The federal government’s 100% financing of state spending on expansion enrollees has led states to boost enrollment and create high payment rates. (See this 2-minute Mercatus video for additional information on this significant development.)

In states that have expanded, enrollment and per enrollee spending are nearly 50% higher than predicted. While interest groups within the states—particularly hospitals and insurers—benefit from the higher spending being charged to federal taxpayers, substantial evidence suggests much of this new spending is wasted or provides little value for its intended recipients.

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The Congressional Budget Office’s latest long-term forecast, released last month, is a bracing report. As President Obama’s term comes to end, CBO finds that the federal government is on track to run up historically large deficits over the coming three decades, pushing federal debt to 141% of GDP, up from 39% in 2008.

The president has mostly avoided talking about the federal budget during his time in office, but he did promise that the Affordable Care Act — ObamaCare — would help lower deficits in the short and long term. CBO backed him up on this claim in 2010, estimating that the deficit would be reduced by 0.5% to 1.0% of GDP over the medium term. But the agency’s new forecast shows why the law is more likely to make the deficit worse, not better.

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Another day, another healthcare co-op failure. In July alone, three co-ops, HealthyCt in Connecticut, Community Care of Oregon, and Land of Lincoln in Illinois announced they are closing up shop. They join 13 other failed co-ops out of the original 23 that were a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act’s vision for the future of healthcare organization — an unrealistic vision based on wishful thinking and sabotaged by the ACA itself.

The ACA created Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (co-ops) — private, state licensed, non-profit health insurance companies — to provide low-cost, consumer friendly coverage to individuals and small businesses. The theory was that since the co-ops didn’t have to show a profit, they could charge lower premiums, provide more services and be more responsive to their members. They would use collective purchasing power to lower administrative and information technology costs and keep members healthy through preventive care and evidence-based medicine.

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Humana recently announced that next year it is withdrawing from 88% of the counties where it sold Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange plans this year. United Healthcare forecasts higher earnings in 2017, stemming in part from its decision to shut down most of its exchange business. Aetna has cancelled plans to expand its ACA market footprint and is instead reevaluating its current participation. At least four states, Alaska, Alabama, Oklahoma and Wyoming will likely have only one exchange insurer this coming year. Sixteen of the 23 co-ops initiated with ACA funding have collapsed. And researchers supportive of the ACA estimate that insurers are requesting average gross premium increases of 23% next year These data points suggest the ACA’s individual market changes are faring poorly thus far.

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CBO projects that the combined federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA subsidies will grow from 11 percent of GDP in 2016 to 16.3 percent of GDP in 2046. This run-up in spending will increase annual federal budget deficits and push cumulative federal debt to 141 percent of GDP in 2046 — well past the point that most economists would consider dangerous for the economy. (Spain’s debt is 99 percent of GDP in 2016).

CBO’s base case scenario is also probably too optimistic. CBO’s projection assumes federal revenue will grow from 18.2 percent of GDP in 2016 to 19.4 percent in 2046 (the 50-year average of federal revenue, from 1966 to 2015, was 17.7 percent of GDP). But the projected growth in federal revenue derives from tax provisions that are sure to change in coming years. For instance, under the ACA, a new 3.8 percent tax was imposed on non-wage income for persons with incomes over $200,000 annually and on couples with incomes over $250,000 per year. These thresholds are not indexed, which means more and more taxpayers, and, eventually, the middle class, will pay this tax as their incomes grow naturally with inflation.

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