An Affordable Healthcare Act supporter (R) talks with a student (L) about the law on the campus of Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, California, October 10, 2013.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

‘Big Government Program Working’

There’s quite a bit of good news surrounding the Affordable Care Act recently, but one development this week seems to have been largely overlooked.
The growth of federal spending on health care will continue to decline as a proportion of the overall economy in the coming decades, in part because of cost controls mandated by President Obama’s health care law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday.
 
The budget office said in its annual 25-year forecast that federal spending on major health care programs would amount to 8 percent of gross domestic product by 2039, one-tenth of a percentage point lower than its previous projection.
 
With the latest revision, the budget office has now reduced its 10-year estimate for spending by Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs by $1.23 trillion starting in 2010, the year the health care law took effect. By 2039, the savings would amount to $250 billion a year today, or about 1.5 percent of the economy.
To be sure, the usual caveats apply. Budget projections that look ahead 25 years into the future are based on estimates, not unshakable data. No one can say with certainty exactly what the nation’s fiscal status will be a quarter of a century from now.
 
That said, officials routinely rely on projections like these when considering the potential impact of various policies. If you’ve ever heard House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) give a speech about his perceived “debt crisis” and/or seen his charts, you know that Republicans take these CBO estimates seriously.
 
And in this case, the CBO believes the Affordable Care Act will make a significant, positive difference in the nation’s fiscal future. As Matt Yglesias noted, “For years now, budget wonks have been warning that the real deficit problem is in the long-run, and it’s driven by the cost of federal health care programs.” Right, and now there’s evidence that these programs will cost much less than we thought, thanks largely to the health care reform law that Republicans said would make the nation’s finances worse.
 
All of which raises a related question: why is it most Americans probably didn’t hear anything about this?
 
Between the border crisis and the deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians this week, there’s certainly a lot of competition for the media spotlight, but the estimable Jared Bernstein seems downright annoyed by the lack of attention for “Obamacare.”
I will happily and publicly stand down if someone can prove otherwise, but my strong sense, and I’m a news junkie, is that the fix has been in on this. And sure, I get that “if-it-bleeds-it-leads.” I suppose “Big Government Program Working” isn’t a very sexy headline. Neither am I saying, of course, that the implementation of ACA is perfect or that it’s all smooth sailing ahead.
 
But man, in an era when faith in government to get something this important right is so deeply shaken, it would be really useful to see a lot more balance here.
Bernstein has a point. Consider a hypothetical: imagine if all of the recent good news for the Affordable Care Act showed the reverse. We now know the uninsured rate is dropping quickly, but imagine if it were climbing. We now know most consumers, even Republicans, who’ve received coverage through the ACA are pleased, but imagine if they hated it. We now know consumers are paying their premiums and insurers are clamoring to participate, but imagine if plans were being canceled for lack of payment and insurers were running for the hills.
 
And we now know the ACA is poised to improve the nation’s fiscal health over the next generation, but imagine if the Congressional Budget Office found the opposite.
 
Is there any doubt the bad news would be the biggest political story in the United States right now? So why is the good news generally overlooked?
 

Affordable Care Act, Debt, Deficits and Obamacare

'Big Government Program Working'