Is ‘HELP’ on the way?

IS ‘HELP’ ON THE WAY?…. Just two weeks ago, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored a health care reform plan crafted by Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The results were ugly: the plan would cost at least $1 trillion over the next decade, but leave tens of millions of people without insurance.

The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t the actual plan — the CBO relied on out-of-date details to score a proposal that wasn’t finished and was missing key provisions. Regardless, Republicans pounced, using the misleading CBO analysis as a cudgel to beat reform advocates. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) went so far as to call the CBO breakdown “the turning point in the healthcare debate.”

The good news is, the actual HELP bill is complete. The better news is, the committee seems to have put together a solid plan. Jonathan Cohn explained:

According to the official CBO estimate, which a Capitol Hill source provided late Wednesday afternoon, the provisions over which HELP has some jurisdiction — which include employer contributions and subsidies to people who can’t fully pay for insurance on their own — would bring insurance to 21 million additional people by 2019, the end of the ten-year budget window. (Erosion of job-based coverage would be virtually zero.) An expansion of Medicaid, something HELP supports but can’t officially legislate — because of committee jurisdiction — would cover another 20 million.

So what does that mean in context? The official CBO projections suggest that, given current trends, there’d be 54 million uninsured people in America by 2019. Therefore, the reforms HELP envisions would reduce that number by three-quarters. Overall, if my math is correct, 95 percent of the population would have health insurance; more than 97 percent if you discount undocumented workers.

The plan would cost — including net outlays, Medicaid expansion, Medicare/Medicaid savings, and new revenue — about a $1 trillion over the next decade.

The HELP Committee’s proposal also, thankfully, includes a public option, though the details have not yet been published.

As for the Republican lawmakers who used the incomplete CBO analysis to practically announce the death knell of reform, Faiz Shakir asks the right question: “[W]hat excuses will McCain, Boehner, Graham, and other Republicans offer now? Their attacks were not only found to be baseless, but their concerns about the costs and coverage have also been addressed.”

I’m sure they’ll think of something. They always do.