Obama: We knew health costs would go up

President Obama on Friday defended the Democrats' healthcare law, saying the enormous expansion of insurance coverage made an increase in healthcare spending inevitable.

"As a consequence of us getting 30 million additional people healthcare, at the margins that's going to increase our costs — we knew that," the president told reporters during a White House press conference. 

"We didn't think that we were going to cover 30 million people for free." 

Obama was responding to questions about new cost projections, crunched by economists at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), revealing the nation's healthcare spending, as a share of the economy, will be 0.3 percentage points higher in 2019 than estimated before the law was passed.

That CMS report, published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs, also revealed healthcare spending will grow by an average of 6.3 percent each year over the next decade, whereas pre-reform projections pegged annual growth at 6.1 percent. 

Republicans have latched onto the figures as evidence that the new reform law has failed in one of its central purposes: to bend the health cost curve down to sustainable levels.

But Obama rejected those criticisms, arguing his pitch for reform included warning that the process would be a long one. 

"I said at the time it wasn't going to happen tomorrow, it wasn't going to happen next year," Obama said. "It took us decades to get into a position where our health care costs were going up 6, 7, 10 percent a year. And so our goal is to slowly bring down those costs."

Obama has at least one statistic working in his favor: CMS says the annual rise in health spending between 2015 and 2019 — after the enormous insurance expansion of 2014 — will average less than the agency estimated pre-reform.

It's not as low as he wants, Obama said Friday. But it's getting there.

"If we can get — instead of healthcare costs going up 6 percent a year — it's going up at the level of inflation, maybe just slightly above inflation, we've made huge progress," he said.