Sen. Baucus: We Need Accurate Numbers not "Creative" Figuring

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), who ruled single payer "off the table" before he even started considering healthcare reform, is now trying to pressure the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to judge the Baucus health plan financially sound.

Baucus held a Finance Committee hearing last Wednesday (2/25/09) at which the sole witness was CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf.

According to CongressDaily (2/25), Baucus, other lawmakers, and "some special interest groups have not been particularly pleased with what they view as CBO's conservative scoring of some supposed cost-cutting efforts that are needed to help offset the enormous price tag" of overhauling the health care system under the Baucus plan.

Baucus said if healthcare reform is to pass, the CBO needs to "get ever more creative to find … pathways to get the savings that we have to have." (Edney, CongressDaily, 2/25)

Baucus told the head of CBO at last Wednesday's hearing that the Congressional Budget Office will play a significant role in efforts to overhaul the U.S. health care system because the agency's cost assessments will "make or break this enterprise," CQ HealthBeat. Experienced observers assert that this is Baucus' way of pressuring the agency to come up with figures to justify the kind of healthcare reform Baucus wants. Similar pressure in the extreme was placed upon the CBO in the early 1990's when the Clinton health plan was being debated.

The CBO is responsible for "scoring" any legislative proposal for its true costs and savings. CBO has been recognized for the accuracy of its findings and projections and for its non-partisanship. In fact, a 1991 CBO study found that a single payer system in the US could cover all the uninsured at the (then) current level of spending or less because of reduction in administrative costs. (More information on CBO study.)

Many recently proposed healthcare plans, similar to the one Baucus says he is drafting, keep private-for-profit health insurance companies in the mix and are based on claiming huge savings from such things as the introduction of computerized record keeping. These so called "savings" are then touted as the way the proposed plan can be "paid for".

The CBO has issued a series of recent studies which have found that most savings claimed, in the effort to keep private-for-profit insurance companies in the mix, do not exist. Recent CBO studies of disease management, "medical homes," electronic medical records, comparative effectiveness research, a public plan that competes with the private insurers and others, do not save money as claimed.

Call, write or fax Senator Baucus and tell him we need accurate numbers not creative figuring. Single payer should be on the table and should be given a full and fair hearing by the Senate Finance Committee.

Senator Max Baucus 511 Hart Senate Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20510 (202) 224-2651(Office) (202) 224-9412 (Fax)