Ex-CBO director Rivlin says more still needed to constrain health costs

Alice Rivlin, the first Congressional Budget Office director and budget aide to President Bill Clinton, said policy makers who just passed a healthcare reform bill will need to do more to rein in health costs that are driving long-term debt projections.

"I think that the health reform put in place some mechanisms that can help, that probably need to be strengthened," she said in an interview with The Hill.

She said stronger health cost controls will be one issue that the White House deficit commission will consider.

Rivlin is part of the 18-member panel of lawmakers and economic experts that President Barack Obama has asked to produce a plan to rein in the growing $12.8 trillion debt.

The White House has touted the health bill, signed by Obama last month, as one of the biggest deficit reducers enacted in recent memory. It would cut deficits by $143 billion over the next 10 years and by more in its second decade, according to CBO projections.

Despite that, health costs, and thus the level of debt, are still rising too fast, Rivlin said.

"We've got to take much more drastic action now because the future spending is largely driven by the combination of an aging population, particularly with the bulge of the baby boom and rising per capita healthcare costs," she said. "Those two things are driving the spending."

In addition to being a member of Obama's fiscal panel, Rivlin is working with former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) on a commission of fiscal experts that will come up with its own debt reduction plan. The task force is being run by the Bipartisan Policy Center and isn't connected with the Obama administration effort.

"We've got to find better ways than the [health] bill did or we'll have a tough time to control spending," Domenici told The Hill. "We need to do better than heretofore happened in putting that bill together, bending the curve. We've got to bend it more and with more certainty, but how and where, we leave that for the task force."