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EDITORIAL: CBO numbers complicate GOP health-care reform efforts

The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the current GOP replacement for Obamacare will increase the nation’s uninsured population by 24 million over the next decade. The news sent some moderate Republicans searching for the exits.

No doubt, the CBO report causes political headaches for Speaker Paul Ryan and complicates efforts to pass the House plan. But it also offers an opportunity for Republicans to articulate a message that emphasizes individual choice and market reforms over the bureaucratic central planning preferred by Democrats.

It’s worth noting that the CBO has been wrong before. The office predicted in 2013 that some 26 million Americans would sign up for Obamacare in 2017; the actual number turned out to be closer to 10 million.

In addition, news about the potential leap in the uninsured overshadowed another finding in the CBO report. The GOP bill would cut the deficit by $337 billion over 10 years by reining in soaring Medicaid costs and replacing the Obamacare subsidies with tax credits. The bill would also cut taxes by $900 billion by repealing a handful of levies hidden in the misnamed Affordable Care Act.

Nevertheless, the 24 million figure had Democrats scurrying for the cameras to accuse Republicans of plotting to ensure that millions of Americans die in the streets. In fact, the majority of people “losing” their insurance in 2018 would be those who, freed from the Obamacare mandate, choose not to purchase it. Many will be young and healthy.

Still others would be moderate income workers who will no longer be eligible for Medicaid, which is intended to help the poor not the middle class. These Americans would, however, become eligible for tax credits that could be used to purchase health insurance.

The CBO estimate also doesn’t take into account that the Republican plan proposes to goose the market by removing federal mandates and allowing insurance companies to offer less costly policies tailored to individual needs. “Instead of brute force,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “Republicans think more people would join the market if it offers alternatives worth the cost.”

That could significantly lower the CBO’s projections.

The GOP health care reform bill is far from perfect. But a plan that offers states and consumers greater flexibility and choice while bringing down the deficit and imposing a modicum of market discipline is preferable to Obamacare, which is nothing more than a way station on the road to the progressive dream of a single-payer, socialized government takeover of the U.S. health care system.

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