Orszag blasts 'loosey goosey' critiques of health legislation cost containment

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag on Wednesday took aim at "loosey goosey" criticisms of the Democratic healthcare bill's ability to contain costs.

Orszag, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, contrasted suggestions that the bill will lead to more federal debt with recent reports in The Atlantic and The New York Times that found that economists who have looked closely at the bill support many of its features.

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"The folks who have done that kind of reporting come to a much different conclusion instead of a kind of 'loosey goosey, let's talk about things in the air instead of what's in the legislation,'" Orszag said.

Republicans in Congress have long said that the House and Senate healthcare bills will not bring down the rising cost of healthcare services and insurance premiums.

GOPers often cite a report from the chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which is part of the Health and Human Services Department, which said the House's bill fails to rein in costs and would likely not be able to sustain projected savings included in the measure.

In a preemptive response to the call, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "All year, we’ve heard that certain reforms were needed to drive down costs. But the fact is that independent analysts and the American people have concluded these proposals would actually increase costs. The Democrat plans make it more expensive — and that's not reform."

Orszag's push back against the GOP attacks came ahead of next week's Senate debate on the healthcare bill.

Orszag touted the praise for the bill from health economists in academia, a former Congressional Budget Office director and economists who worked in President George W. Bush's administration. The health experts were all cited in recent stories by The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein and the Times' David Leonhardt.

In Brownstein's story, Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he had been a skeptic of past health reform bills but that he found the latest Senate legislation to be the "best effort anyone has ever made" at reining in costs.

Orszag suggested that others who have questioned the bill haven't been as thorough as Brownstein. He noted that The Atlantic reporter identified specific pages of the bill while interviewing him for the piece.

"I would say to folks in the looser range, 'What specifically else would you do?'" he added.

Orszag added that the legislation accomplished four objectives he said were key to any health cost containment: legislation that doesn't grow the federal deficit; an excise tax on high-premium health plans; an independent Medicare commission to encourage more efficient medical decisions; and delivery system reforms. Orszag said that the Senate bill achieved each of those objectives.

Though the economists in the stories praised the bill's efforts, they noted that several of the cost containment measures were watered down. Alan Garber, a Stanford University healthcare expert, told Leonhardt that he likes much of the bill but that it "needs to go further."

The Obama administration in recent days has turned to the independent reports to make their case to the public and to the centrist senators who are crucial to pushing the bill through the upper chamber. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Obama aides to read Brownstein's piece, and the bill's supporters in the administration and in Congress have repeatedly noted that the independent CBO's scores of both the Senate and House bills found them to reduce the deficit over the next decade.