In his March 22 Washington Post column, conservative commentator and frequent health care misinformation peddler Charles Krauthammer parroted the latest right-wing myth about the Affordable Care Act (ACA): that a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of the cost of the ACA showed that the law will cost twice as much as a similar estimate from two years ago. From The Washington Post (emphasis added):
Obamacare was carefully constructed to manipulate the standard 10-year cost projections of the CBO. Because benefits would not fully kick in for four years, President Obama could trumpet 10-year gross costs of less than $1 trillion -- $938 billion to be exact.
But now that the near-costless years 2010 and 2011 have elapsed, the true 10-year price tag comes into focus. From 2013 through 2022, the CBO reports, the costs of Obamacare come to $1.76 trillion -- almost twice the phony original number.
Rarely has one law so exemplified the worst of the Leviathan state -- grotesque cost, questionable constitutionality and arbitrary bureaucratic coerciveness. Little wonder the president barely mentioned it in his latest State of the Union address. He wants to be reelected. He'd rather talk about other things.
Of course, the claim that the cost of the health care law has suddenly doubled has been thoroughly debunked over the past week by numerous sources -- for example, here, here, here, and here. Krauthammer can't plead ignorance, as even his Washington Post colleagues have shot down this myth. In a March 20 post on his Washington Post blog, Wonkblog, Ezra Klein provided this helpful chart -- two days before Krauthammer weighed in -- explaining that an “apples-to-apples graph of the 'net' cost of the coverage provisions” showed a decrease in the cost of the law:
The title of Klein's post makes the truth plainly clear: “No, the CBO hasn't doubled its cost estimate for health-care reform.” Again, this was published on The Washington Post's website two days before Krauthammer's column went up.
Although largely dedicated to perpetuating this myth, even a few members of the right-wing media have admitted that the claim is a distortion of the CBO's report. On the National Review Online blog The Corner, Patrick Brennan, who describes the law as a “Brobdingnagian bureaucracy” with “fishy accounting” explained:
This claim, that the CBO's 2012 estimate suggests Obamacare will cost twice as much as originally projected when the bill was passed in 2010, has been widely trumpeted, by some rather doggedly, as another Obamacare failure, but unfortunately, it's entirely dishonest accounting, as a range of liberal bloggers have pointed out.
Here's why: The gross costs of Obamacare's insurance coverage in the CBO's 2010-2019 estimate were indeed $940 billion (table 2, page 2, here). The updated estimate covers the years 2012-2022, in which the gross costs will be $1.76 trillion, which is, yes, almost double the other number (table 2, here). But these numbers aren't remotely comparable.
Pretending that the $940 billion number has been revised to $1.76 trillion is like comparing Tom Brady's first through eighth seasons in the NFL with his third through eleventh (though probably only Paul Krugman thinks of government spending as a touchdown pass). Gross costs in each year haven't really changed -- e.g., in 2019, the old, 2010 estimate predicted a gross cost of $216 billion, the new estimate is $224 billion (the net costs of coverage have consistently decreased from the old estimate to the new -- in 2019, say, from $175 billion to $149 billion).
Given Krauthammer's history of pushing conservative myths about the health care law, perhaps it's not surprising he would highlight this latest falsehood. What is surprising, though, is The Washington Post publishing it after already debunking it.