Independent healthcare cost analysis becomes political football

An independent cost analysis of the Senate's healthcare reform bill became ammunition for both parties on Friday, with Democrats defending the analysis and Republicans calling it "a roundhouse blow" to the bill.
Richard Foster, chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services -- a division of the Department of Health and Human Services -- issued a report late Thursday in response to a request by GOP Sen. Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington MORE (Neb.). The report studied the bill currently pending on the Senate floor, cobbled together by Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo end sugar subsidies, conservatives can't launch a frontal attack House presses Senate GOP on filibuster reform A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations MORE (D-Nev.) from two different bills.

Foster found the bill "includes numerous provisions that would reduce Medicare costs," while raising a hospital payroll tax rate for wealthier patients. In all, Foster said the bill would extend the financial life of Medicare by nine years, from its current estimated bankruptcy date of 2017 to 2026. Foster also estimated a lower federal deficit: "The combination of lower... costs and higher tax revenues results in a lower Federal deficit based on budget accounting rules."
Republicans assailed the analysis, however, focusing on the increased spending of $234 billion from 2010 to 2019 that Foster noted, as well as various conclusions in his analysis that access to Medicare services could be jeopardized as the system grows to accomodate more Americans. Foster also found that the bill would reduce the number of uninsured Americans from 57 million to 24 million, which Republicans said still represents a failure.
"We had representations that the purpose of this health care reform was to decrease, to move down the healthcare costs. Now we find that this bill significantly increases the national healthcare expenditures," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). "It appears the Reid bill clearly fails that test and gets an 'F' on the issue of vetting the healthcare costs down and on the issue of insuring everyone."
GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (Ky.) and other senior Republicans also took to the Senate floor on Friday to tout Foster's analysis, and told reporters at a press conference that the analysis proved their points.
"We wanted to be revenue-neutral and we wanted to be sure that long-term, we were going to reduce healthcare inflation," said Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Grassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law MORE (Iowa), ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. "Now, on a partisan bill, we're about to spend 2.5 trillion on a bill that does neither."

Johanns also called the analysis a "roundhouse blow to the Reid bill," while Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Meghan McCain: Melania is 'my favorite Trump, by far' Kelly says Trump not likely to extend DACA deadline MORE (R-Ariz.) said it "should put the dagger in the heart of the Reid bill."

White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass, who heads the Obama administration's healthcare publicity effort, issued a statement accusing the GOP of distorting Foster's analysis.

"How did reform's opponents manage to use this report to claim that costs will increase?" Douglass said. "They cherry-picked total expenditures at a singular, fixed point in time – ignoring the overall rate of cost growth, the impact on Medicare and America’s seniors, and the fact that millions of more Americans will be covered."