HHS Secretary Price: CBO Report Numbers Are ‘Not Believable’

Andrew Harnik/AP

The Secretary of Health and Human Services characterized as “not believable” a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated 14 million people would lose health coverage through 2018 under the House GOP’s proposed health care bill.

HHS Secretary Tom Price said the CBO report “ignored completely the other legislative activities that we’ll be putting into place that will make certain that we have an insurance market that actually works,” in addition to the American Health Care Act, which Republicans have described as “phase one” of health care reform.

“So we disagree strenuously with the report that was put out. We believe that our plan will cover more individuals at a lower cost and give them the choices they want for the coverage that they want for themselves and their families, not that the government forces them to buy,” he told reporters outside the White House.

One reporter asked if he was implying the CBO was wrong in their estimates. Price responded that, while he hadn’t yet read the report, its estimates were “virtually impossible.”

“The fact of the matter is, if you look at that, it’s virtually impossible to have that number occur. We are not certain – again, we haven’t been able to read the report –“

“The CBO is wrong?” the reporter asked again.

“Just look at the numbers,” Price replied. “There are 8 million people, 8, 9 million people who are on the exchange currently. I’m not sure how they’re going to get to 14 million people uninsured if that’s what they say, with only 8 million people on the exchange. There are individuals I guess that they assume that are on Medicaid who aren’t paying anything in the Medicaid system who are going to not take the Medicaid policy just because the mandate ended, or something happened. It’s just not believable is what we would suggest. We’ll look at the numbers and see.”

In its report, the CBO estimates that, of the 14 million fewer people it estimates would have insurance by 2018, “[t]hat increase would consist of about 6 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 2 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.”

The CBO noted that some who are eligible for Medicaid still face penalties for not being covered by an insurance plan.

“Under current law, the penalties associated with the individual mandate apply to some Medicaid-eligible adults and children. (For example, the penalties apply to single individuals with income above about 90 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, also known as the federal poverty level, or FPL),” the report read. “CBO estimates that, without those penalties, fewer people would enroll in Medicaid, including some who are not subject to the penalties but might think they are.”

“Some people might be uncertain about what circumstances trigger the penalty and others might be uncertain about their annual income,” it continues. “The estimated lower enrollment would result in less spending for the program. Those effects on enrollment and spending would continue throughout the 2017-2026 period.”

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