GOP senator: CBO moving the goalposts on ObamaCare mandate

GOP senator: CBO moving the goalposts on ObamaCare mandate
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSupreme Court takes on same-sex wedding cake case House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama Trump really will shrink government, starting with national monuments MORE (R-Utah) on Tuesday sharply criticized the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for shifting its estimates of the effect of ObamaCare’s individual mandate as GOP lawmakers consider new ways of repealing the rule.

Lee’s comments come after Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTax bill could fuel push for Medicare, Social Security cuts Collins to vote for GOP tax plan Overnight Tech: Lawmakers want answers on Uber breach | Justices divided in patent case | Tech makes plea for net neutrality on Cyber Monday MORE (R-La.) told The Hill earlier on Tuesday that he has been informed the CBO is now projecting that repealing the mandate will provide significantly less savings than it previously projected.

Some Republicans are pushing to repeal the mandate in their tax-reform bill to help pay for cuts, so a projection of less savings would make mandate repeal less useful.

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“Just a few months ago the CBO had us playing by one set of rules for debating health care policy and now we are being told those rules have been completely changed for tax policy,” Lee said in a statement. “This is simply unacceptable and it is why Congress must pass the CBO Show Your Work Act of 2017.”

Lee’s bill would require the CBO to publish information on how it comes up with its analyses.

However, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA MORE (R-Ark.), who is pushing to repeal the mandate in tax reform, said Tuesday that his office has it on "good authority" that CBO would still show savings of over $300 billion from repealing the mandate.

"Any changes from their most recent score would reflect environmental changes since this summer, such as changes in enrollment, premiums, etc.," she said. "Anyone saying anything to the contrary is likely basing that on incorrect or outdated information." 

Cassidy said the CBO has now changed how it thinks about the mandate to project that it is not as powerful a force in motivating people to sign up for coverage as previously thought.

That means repealing it would lead to smaller coverage losses and, in turn, less savings. When more people are uninsured, the government saves money from paying out less in health-care subsidies.

“It’s unclear just what savings it achieves,” Cassidy told The Hill. “They said it’s going to be significantly less [savings].”

“They’re going to say it’s significantly less effective than they originally thought,” Cassidy added of the mandate.

Cassidy is also frustrated with the CBO, noting that much of the projected coverage losses from his ObamaCare replacement bill earlier this year were due to mandate repeal.

“The frustrating thing about this whole debate we had is that everybody knew it didn’t have an impact except the CBO,” said Cassidy, one of the authors of a failed attempt earlier this year to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

The CBO previously projected that repealing the mandate would save $416 billion and result in 15 million more uninsured people.

A revised analysis could come this week, as Republicans have asked for projections of including mandate repeal in tax reform.

President Trump is among the Republicans calling for the mandate's repeal in the tax legislation, but GOP sources told The Hill on Monday that the House is unlikely to add that change to its current bill.