Health Reform Still Cuts the Deficit. (Does Anybody Care?)

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The Congressional Budget Office released its analysis for the latest health care reform bill the Senate passed in December. This is essentially the plan that Democrats hope to pass into law with a few procedural touch-ups through reconciliation. So what's the final score? Over 10 years, the bill shaves $118 billion off the deficit. Big news, right?

No. At this stage, the CBO's analysis has the distinct quality of being both very important and completely redundant. It's important to know that the Senate bill doesn't drastically change health care's cost savings trajectory. It's also redundant, because the debate over health care in the policy world -- if not the political world -- has petrified.

Supporters of health care "know" reform will reduce the deficit in the 10-year horizon (and possibly long after that), because the CBO has repeatedly scored reform as deficit neutral. Meanwhile, critics of health care "know" the CBO is overstating its case, time and again, with gullible projections about Medicare cuts and doctor reimbursements. Supporters maintain that Medicare savings almost always stick. Critics respond that these cuts are more severe, and they will surely be curbed just like the Alternative Minimum Tax is patched year after year. Supporters say "hey, look at all of these little ideas that can chop away at health care inflation." Critics respond "I see them, and they won't work, and in any case your adding a hundred-billion-dollar-a-year entitlement onto our already bloated health care system." Supporters say it's moral. Critics say it's irresponsible. And around we go.

The good news about the CBO score is that it changes practically nothing. The bad news is, it changes practically nothing.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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