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Health On The Hill Transcript: GOP, White House Tussle On Cost Of Law’s Repeal

The House floor vote to repeal the health care law previously scheduled for Jan. 12 has been postponed due to the shooting in Arizona. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are at odds over a Congressional Budget Office estimate that found repealing the law would add $230 billion to the deficit over the next decade. Republicans say if the law is fully implemented it would cost taxpayers more than $700 billion.

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JACKIE JUDD: Good day. This is Health on the Hill. I’m Jackie Judd. Congress has put its calendar on hold because of the shooting rampage in Arizona and that includes a delay in the vote to repeal the health care overhaul law. To bring us up-to-date, Mary Agnes Carey, senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News. Welcome, Mary Agnes.  At this moment, is there any sense of when the vote will be rescheduled by Republican leadership?

MARY AGNES CAREY: No, there is nothing official. The Republican leadership has been very eager to have this vote. They might have it before the State of the Union, which is typically near the end of January, but nothing has been said.

JACKIE JUDD: Part of the renewed debate over the law is what would it cost if it is repealed? The Congressional Budget Office, which always will estimate what a piece of legislation would cost, puts it at $230 billion over a decade (what it would add to the deficit). How did it reach that conclusion?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, every law has revenue-raising provisions and spending provisions and there are revenue raisers in the health law. There are new taxes, there are new fees on different sectors. There are certainly Medicare changes that would reduce the growth in Medicare spending and so CBO said if you get rid of all those, you will add to the deficit, the $230 billion.

JACKIE JUDD: And the Republicans say that’s nonsense. They have come out with their own report saying that the law would in fact add $700 billion, in a decade, to the deficit. How did they reach their conclusion and why did they disagree so strongly with the CBO, which is a nonpartisan organization?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, it is all about your assumptions and your modeling. Republicans feel that many more jobs will be reduced and CBO has said. They think that employers will feel a lot of economic uncertainty and would not only cut current jobs, but they won’t add jobs.

They have a lot of doubt that some of the Medicare changes in the bill will actually happen. And they criticize the calculation by CBO which Republicans say double counts savings in the Medicare program to not only reduce the deficit but also extend the Medicare Trust Fund, so they really take issue with that finding.

JACKIE JUDD: And last week the White House jumped into this debate with the statement that said, affirmatively, if this repeal passes both the House and the Senate, the Senate of course being very doubtful, no doubt the President would veto it. But he also used the CBO figures as a reason to not do this. What did the White House say?

MARY AGNES CAREY: I think what the White House was saying that if you repeal this law, you are going to repeal a lot of protections that consumers think are very important, keeping your child on your health insurance policy until age 26, or banning a practice of rescissions, known as canceling your health insurance once you get sick unless you have committed outright fraud.

Now, they also look at the CBO number to say, as you noted, the Congressional Budget Office is the official scorekeeper. The Congressional Budget Office says the health law will reduce the deficit, and I think the President wanted to make that point to the public.

JACKIE JUDD: At this point, Mary Agnes, do you feel like anyone’s mind [is] going to be changed on Capitol Hill, or is every position firmly in place?

MARY AGNES CAREY: I think the battle lines have been clearly drawn. You have people who oppose the law and they are vigorously fighting for repeal. You have President Obama and many Democrats who support the law and want it to be implemented further. And I think no one is changing their minds.

JACKIE JUDD: And they will choose to accept the set of figures that helps build their case.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Use the numbers that build your case and go forward.

JACKIE JUDD: Okay. Thank you very much. We will check back with you next week.


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