CBO scores Baucus

CBO SCORES BAUCUS…. The long-awaited Congressional Budget Office report on the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform bill was finally released this afternoon.

What’s the news? The bill would cost $829 billion over the next decade, achieve $81 billion in deficit reduction, and cover 94% of the population.

According to CBO and JCT’s assessment, enacting the Chairman’s mark, as amended, would result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $81 billion over the 2010-2019 period. The estimate includes a projected net cost of $518 billion over 10 years for the proposed expansions in insurance coverage. That net cost itself reflects a gross total of $829 billion in credits and subsidies provided through the exchanges, increased net outlays for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and tax credits for small employers; those costs are partly offset by $201 billion in revenues from the excise tax on high-premium insurance plans and $110 billion in net savings from other sources. The net cost of the coverage expansions would be more than offset by the combination of other spending changes that CBO estimates would save $404 billion over the 10 years and other provisions that JCT and CBO estimate would increase federal revenues by $196 billion over the same period. In subsequent years, the collective effect of those provisions would probably be continued reductions in federal budget deficits. Those estimates are all subject to substantial uncertainty.

By 2019, CBO and JCT estimate, the number of nonelderly people who are uninsured would be reduced by about 29 million, leaving about 25 million nonelderly residents uninsured (about one-third of whom would be unauthorized immigrants). Under the proposal, the share of legal nonelderly residents with insurance coverage would rise from about 83 percent currently to about 94 percent. Roughly 23 million people would purchase their own coverage through the new insurance exchanges, and there would be roughly 14 million more enrollees in Medicaid and CHIP than is projected under current law. Relative to currently projected levels, the number of people either purchasing individual coverage outside the exchanges or obtaining coverage through employers would decline by several million.

At first blush, it’s a mixed bag. The price tag will please spending-averse lawmakers, as will the deficit reduction (bending the proverbial cost curve), but the Finance Committee bill still leaves a significant number of people without coverage, and subsidy levels remain a point of major contention.

I’ll have more in the morning, but in the meantime, the key takeaway from the CBO report is straightforward enough: it moves the process forward. If the CBO had released a report trashing the Baucus bill — higher than expected costs, lower than expected savings — the result would have been quite a bit of chaos on the Hill.

This afternoon’s report keeps the ball rolling in the right direction.