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Conservative Media Echo Misleading GOP Claim On Health Care Law And The Deficit

Conservative media are parroting a Republican claim that a federal report says health care reform increases the long-term deficit. In fact, the report says that the deficit would only increase if cost containment measures in the bill were phased out over time, and found that the deficit would decrease if those measures were maintained.

  • GOP Sen. Sessions: Federal Report Says Health Care Law Adds $6.2 Trillion To Long-Term Deficit

    The Hill: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) “Said A New Government Report Shows” The Affordable Care Act “Will Add $6.2 Trillion To The Deficit Over The Next 75 Years.” The Hill reported: “The Senate Budget Committee's top Republican said a new government report shows that President Obama's healthcare law will add $6.2 trillion to the deficit over the next 75 years. Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) said numbers from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) prove the Affordable Care Act won't reduce the deficit, as proponents claimed.” [The Hill2/26/13]

    Conservative Media Echo Sessions' Claim

    Fox News' Baier: Senator Sessions “Says The President's Health Care Overhaul Will Increase Unfunded Liabilities By More Than $6 Trillion Over The Next 75 Years.” Fox News host Bret Baier said: “Republican Senator Jeff Sessions says the president's health care overhaul will increase unfunded liabilities by more than $6 trillion over the next 75 years. Sessions is citing a report from the Government Accountability Office, and he's recalling a promise of the president that the law would not add one dime to the deficit.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier2/26/13]

    Limbaugh: GAO Said That “Obamacare Will Increase The Long Term National Deficit By 6.2 Trillion.” Rush Limbaugh also discussed the GAO report, saying it showed that “Obamacare will increase the long term national deficit by 6.2 trillion.” He added: “It's not saving anybody any money. It's not reducing your premiums by $2500. It's not balancing the budget. It's not reducing the deficit. Obamacare -- another way to put this -- Obamacare will result in this country spending $6.2 trillion it otherwise would not spend. It's the only way to look at this. If we had not made any changes in our health care system, we wouldn't be spending this 6.2 trillion.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show2/26/13]

    National Review Online: “GAO Report: Obamacare Adds $6.2 Trillion To Long-Term Deficit.” Reporting on the GAO study, National Review Online's Andrew Stiles wrote in a postheadlined, “GAO Report: Obamacare Adds $6.2 Trillion to Long-Term Deficit,” that “President Obama and other Democrats attempted to win support for the health-care bill by touting it as a fiscally responsible enterprise.” The post cited Senator Sessions as saying that “the new report exposes the 'lack of honesty' surrounding such claims.” [National Review Online, The Corner, 2/26/13

    Drudge Report: “Obamacare To Add $6.2 Trillion To Deficit...” From the Drudge Report:

    [Drudge Report Archives, 2/26/13

    Report Actually Says Federal Deficit Will Decline If Health Care Law Is Fully Implemented

    GAO: Health Care Law Will Increase Deficit Only If Cost-Containment Provisions Are “Phased Out Over Time.” The GAO report cited by Sessions and conservative media looked at two scenarios and found that the health care law will increase the long-term deficit under a scenario in which cost-cutting provisions of the law are phased out:

    The effect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), enacted in March 2010, on the long-term fiscal outlook depends largely on whether elements in PPACA designed to control cost growth are sustained.


    The Fall 2010 Alternative simulation assumed cost containment mechanisms specified in PPACA were phased out over time while the additional costs associated with expanding federal health care coverage remained. Under these assumptions, the long-term outlook worsened slightly compared to the pre-PPACA January 2010 simulation. [Government Accountability Office, January 2013]

    GAO: “Notable Improvement” In Outlook If “Both The Expansion Of Health Care Coverage And The Full Implementation And Effectiveness Of The Cost-Containment Provisions” Are Sustained. According to the GAO report, "[T]here was notable improvement in the longer-term outlook after the enactment of [the health care law] under GAO's Fall 2010 Baseline Extended simulation, which assumes both the expansion of health care coverage and the full implementation and effectiveness of the cost-containment provisions over the entire 75-year simulation period." [Government Accountability Office, January 2013]

    The Hill: $6.2 Trillion Figure Assumes Cost-Containment Measures End, But Deficit "Will Decline" If The Health Care Law Remains Fully Implemented. The Hill reported that the health care law “could increase or decrease the deficit over the next 75 years depending on whether its cost-saving provisions survive” and that the $6.2 trillion figure assumes a scenario “in which the law's cost-containment measures end.” From The Hill:

    In a new report, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that President Obama's signature law could increase or decrease the deficit over the next 75 years depending on whether its cost-saving provisions survive.


    Assuming the law is enforced as-is, the U.S. deficit will decline 1.5 percent as a share of the economy over the next 75 years, according to the GAO. Auditors attributed 1.2 percent of this improvement to the Affordable Care Act.

    Under a different set of assumptions, the law has the opposite effect over time, the GAO said -- the deficit will increase by 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) if the law's cost-containment measures are phased out.

    The report attributed this potential increase in part to the law's most expensive features -- the Medicaid expansion and the provision of insurance subsidies.

    The report was requested by Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. On Tuesday, he and his office jumped on the figures to say that the healthcare law will increase the deficit by $6.2 trillion over 75 years.

    To arrive at this figure, Sessions's office assumed the second scenario, in which the law's cost-containment measures end, and added up 75 year's [sic] worth of deficits using GDP projections from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. [The Hill2/26/13]

    CBO Previously Found That Health Care Law Reduces The Deficit

    CBO: Repealing Health Care Law “Would Increase Federal Budget Deficits By $109 Billion Over The 2013-2022 Period.” In July 2012, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation released a report finding that repealing the health care law would increase the deficit by $109 billion from 2013 to 2022:

    On net, CBO and JCT estimate, repealing the ACA would increase federal budget deficits by $109 billion over the 2013-2022 period. Repealing the coverage provisions discussed in this report would save $1,171 billion over that period, but repealing the rest of the act would increase direct spending and reduce revenues by a total of $1,280 billion. [Congressional Budget Office, 7/24/12]