Analysis: Some health care numbers don't tally

WASHINGTON -- Some of President Barack Obama's health care numbers don't seem to add up. And that's complicating his efforts to pass his top domestic priority.

Obama could be falling into the same trap that snagged George W. Bush when he was pushing private accounts for Social Security as part of his "ownership society" in 2005. Bush's claims that the proposal would help shore up Social Security's long-term finances were hard to document mathematically and wound up feeding greater public skepticism.

Obama claims his health effort will not dig the nation deeper into debt and over time will help reduce deficits. He has vowed to not sign any health bill that raises deficits.

But even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that none of the health plans pending on Capitol Hill would control long-term spending, and that ones with the elements Obama wants would add around $1 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

Furthermore the CBO said an administration-backed independent council of medical experts to recommend Medicare cuts would only yield modest savings.

The White House stands by its claims. Its allies claim that CBO forecasts, for instance, don't reflect potential future cost savings that might be expected from the prevention of illness achieved from wider health care coverage.

A recent report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers claims that the government can cut the projected level of health spending by 15 percent over the next decade and by 30 percent over the next 20 years. However, some of those reductions would come from fewer services rather than lower payments to providers.

Recent polls show increasing anxiety over federal budget deficits and the failure of Congress to figure out how to pay for health care overhaul.

Suggestions have ranged from taxes on soft drinks to a surcharge on wealthy individuals, from a tax on health insurance benefits paid by employers - opposed by Obama in last year's campaign - to a proposed tax on insurance companies. That, plus letting existing Bush tax cuts expire for wealthier Americans.

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, a former CBO director, insists that the health care effort "is deficit neutral over the first decade."

Other budget experts are dubious.

During his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly vowed "you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime." But now his advisers refuse to rule out higher taxes to help tame the budget deficit or as part of a health care overhaul.


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