NY Times, Tapper misrepresent scope of CBO's analysis of draft health reform bill

In reporting that CBO concluded that a Senate draft health care reform bill would leave many uninsured, neither The New York Times nor ABC's Jake Tapper noted that the CBO director stated in a letter accompanying the CBO report that the “figures do not represent a formal or complete cost estimate for the draft legislation.”

In reports on the Congressional Budget Office's June 15 preliminary analysis of the Senate health committee's draft health care reform bill, neither The New York Times nor ABC's Jake Tapper noted that the CBO itself said that the assessment was incomplete. While both the Times -- in an article written by Robert Pear and Jackie Calmes -- and Tapper reported that CBO estimated that the bill would cost an estimated $1 trillion over 10 years and asserted that it would leave, in both the Times and Tapper's words, “tens of millions” of people uninsured, they did not cite or quote CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf, who stated in a letter accompanying the CBO report: “It is important to note, however, that those figures do not represent a formal or complete cost estimate for the draft legislation” [emphasis in original].

Elmendorf wrote that "[t]he draft legislation released by the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee ... indicates that certain features may be added at a later date. Because they are not reflected in the current draft, however, CBO and the JCT [Joint Committee on Taxation] staff did not take them into account." In particular, Elmendorf wrote: “The draft legislation ... indicates that the committee is considering whether to incorporate other features, including a 'public health insurance option' and requirements for 'shared responsibility' by employers. Depending on their details, such provisions could ... have substantial effects on our analysis.”

Indeed, “requirements for 'shared responsibility' by employers” -- also known as an employer mandate -- are specifically intended to expand insurance coverage to the currently uninsured.

According to the summary of the HELP Committee's draft bill, the “Shared Responsibility of Employer” provisions would require employers to either subsidize at least a certain amount of employees' health benefits or make payments to the Department of Health and Human Services for those employees. As Ezra Klein wrote in a June 16 post on his Washington Post blog, “The employer and individual mandates ... are particularly key to increasing the number of Americans with insurance.” The CBO, Klein noted, “ran its estimates with no employer mandate and an individual mandate with a laughably small penalty,” while “HELP is writing a bill with a strong employer and individual mandate.”

The media have a history of misrepresenting partial CBO assessments. As Media Matters for America documented, earlier this year numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, suggested that a CBO analysis of part of the economic recovery bill was an analysis of the full bill. Findings from that partial analysis, when falsely identified as CBO's findings regarding the entire bill, provided fodder for conservatives' arguments against the bill.

From the June 15 New York Times article, “Cost Concerns as Obama Pushes Health Issue” :

But as the president spoke at the annual conference of the American Medical Association in Chicago, it became clear that one of the major health plans on the table would cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years yet leave tens of millions of people uninsured.


An analysis released Monday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office raised the hurdles for draft legislation in the Senate just as its Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee planned to begin voting on Wednesday. The office concluded that a plan by the committee's Democratic leaders, Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, would reduce the number of uninsured only by a net 16 million people. Even if the bill became law, the budget office said, 36 million people would remain uninsured in 2017.

That finding came as a surprise. Robert D. Reischauer, an economist who headed the budget office when Congress tackled the health care issue in the Clinton administration, said that if so many people remained uninsured, it might not be feasible to cut special federal payments to hospitals that serve many low-income people.


The practical problem for Mr. Obama is that by all accounts, the savings and efficiencies he envisions will not occur quickly, certainly not in the 10-year time frame of budget scorekeeping for purposes of passing legislation.

The budget office estimated that 39 million people would get coverage through new “insurance exchanges.” But at the same time, it said, the number of people with employer-provided health insurance would decline by 15 million, or about 10 percent, and coverage from other sources would fall by 8 million.

In effect, the office said, millions of people would get a better deal if they bought insurance through an exchange because they could qualify for federal subsidies not available if they stayed in their employers' health plans. Subsidies are expected to average $5,000 to $6,000 a person.

From the June 15 edition of ABC News' World News with Charles Gibson:

TAPPER: And George [Stephanopoulos, guest host], this evening the Congressional Budget Office has offered an analysis of a different Senate Democrat's plan -- that of Senator Ted Kennedy. They concluded that the plan would cost at least $1 trillion over the course of 10 years with a net increase of 16 million people insured. George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Jake, Republicans are already weighing in on that report. They're doing some back-of-the-envelope math saying it's going to be $62,500 for every new person covered. What's the White House saying about the report?

TAPPER: Well, they're saying, first of all, that the president is insisting that any plan be deficit-neutral, that it be paid for, and they're also saying that there are a lot of different plans on Capitol Hill, they're all going through the legislative process, and they have not seen the Congressional Budget Office report yet, so they cannot officially comment.

From the June 16 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

TAPPER: And the big subject here in Washington today is the fact that the Congressional Budget Office, Robin [Roberts, co-host], has looked at one of the Democrat [sic] bills on Capitol Hill -- that from Senator Ted Kennedy -- and said it would cost $1 trillion over the next 10 years and only add a net increase of 16 million people to the ranks of the insured, leaving behind tens of millions. The administration's response is the legislative process is still fluid, and that is not their bill -- Robin.