The Economist’s Bizarre Health Care Claim

In an editorial in Friday’s issue bemoaning American politicians’ inability to tackle the budget deficit, The Economist offers this bizarre, unsupported assertion:

Health care offered a chance to [reduce government spending on social insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid] (broader coverage could come with tougher cost controls). But a weak administration and a greedy Congress conspired to produce a baggy monster of a bill which, from a fiscal point of view, might have made things worse.

The health care bill could have been a lot better. But if The Economist‘s editorial writers are going to claim that the bill “might” make the fiscal situation worse, they should offer some evidence. The Congressional Budget Office, which has been cited by both Republicans and Democrats as an impartial referee, found that both the House and the Senate health care bills would reduce the deficit over their first decade. And the Senate bill, according to the CBO’s calculations, would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in its second decade. The news article that’s paired with The Economist‘s editorial says that “many” (unspecified) analysts “doubt whether [health care reform] savings would have materialised” if reform passed, and argues that if they did, it would be “miraculous.”

Economist readers would have been better served by coverage that made it clear that the CBO believes that passing health care reform will reduce the deficit. They would have been even better served if The Economist explained that America’s long-term deficit problem is driven almost entirely by the rising cost of health care—not by the retirement of baby boomers or Social Security costs. As Dean Baker (an economist!) likes to remind us, “if the United States health care system were as efficient as those in other countries, the U.S. would be expecting huge budget surpluses in future decades.”