Spicer: The CBO Is ‘Pretty Good At Dollars, Not As Good At People’

White House Press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday, in response to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that millions of people would lose care as a result of Republicans’ health care plan, that the CBO was “pretty good at dollars, not as good at people.”

During his daily press briefing, Spicer endorsed the CBO’s projections that the American Health Care Act would reduce the deficit by a bit more than $33 billion a year for 10 years, on average. But he said the office wasn’t a reliable judge of coverage numbers.

“CBO coverage estimates are consistently wrong, and more importantly, did not take into consideration the comprehensive nature of the three-pronged plan to repeal and replace Obamacare with the American Health Care Act,” Spicer said.

Earlier, Spicer had emphasized that the CBO’s estimate that the AHCA would reduce the deficit was reflective of what the office “was really about.”

The CBO, Spicer said “is there to measure the potential impact of programs on the federal budget.”

“In the portion of its analysis that focuses on what they office is really about, the CBO concedes that the American Health Care Act would actually reduce the deficit by over $330 billion, and bring health insurance premiums down 10 percent, even before many of the significant reforms in prongs two and three have taken effect,” he said.

“They’ve got a record that doesn’t match up with the ability to count people,” he added later. “They’re pretty good at dollars, not as good at people. And I think that when you look at the additional phases, or prongs of this whole comprehensive approach, that actually changes the equation a lot.”

Republicans have promised other “phases” of health care reform, to include regulatory actions taken by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and additional legislation. The conservative Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) called the prospect of more phases “just political talk” on Tuesday.

Spicer’s critique of the CBO as fudging its Obamacare coverage numbers isn’t unique among supporters of the AHCA, who attempted to discredit the office’s judgment of coverage numbers in advance of the report released Monday.

But, aside from unexpected events including a Supreme Court decision that states could reject Obamacare’s federal dollars for the expansion of Medicaid, the former director of the CBO and others argued to TPM recently that the office’s estimates on Obamacare were much closer to reality “than the uninformed guesses of a lot of people at the time, and more accurate than the informed guesses of many other organizations.”

“CBO was right that insurance coverage would rise sharply under the ACA, which a number of prominent people disagreed with at the time,” Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the CBO from 2009 to 2015, told TPM. “CBO was right that employers would not stop offering health insurance in large numbers. The CBO was right, roughly, about the level of insurance premiums today.”

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