Former CBO Chief: Congress Never Meant to Limit Obamacare Subsidies

Former CBO Chief: Congress Never Meant to Limit Obamacare Subsidies

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By Rob Garver

A Supreme Court ruling expected this summer will determine whether the federal government can subsidize the insurance costs of individuals in states that did not establish their own health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Douglas Elmendorf was the director of the Congressional Budget Office when Congress debated the bill, and on Tuesday he provided some ammunition to backers of the law who insist that that Congress did not intend to prevent payments of subsidies to consumers in states using the federal exchange.

Related: How Obamacare Could Be Squeezing Consumer Spending​​

In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2015 Fiscal Summit*, Elmendorf said that before the ACA passed, the CBO analyzed the bill for members of Congress, many of whom were powerfully opposed to it. At the time, he said, there was a common understanding on Capitol Hill that the subsidies would be available to states regardless of the status of their exchanges.

“That analysis was subject to a lot of very intense scrutiny and a lot of questions,” he said. “My colleagues and I can remember no occasion on which anybody asked why we were expecting subsidies to be paid in all states regardless of whether they established exchanges or not. And if people had not had this common understanding…then I’m sure we would have had a lot of questions about that.”

Pressed by Harwood, Elmendorf added, “My colleagues and I talked to a lot of people, with a lot of questions about nearly every aspect of the analysis that we did…and we could not remember anybody asking us any questions about what would happen in the federal exchange different from what would happen in the state exchanges.”

Even so, the language of the law states that the subsidies would apply to exchanges “established by the State” and the Supreme Court will decide how literally those words must be interpreted.

*Pete Peterson also funds The Fiscal Times.

Chart of the Day: Dem Candidates Face Their Own Tax Plans

Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren participate in the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Democratic presidential candidates are proposing a variety of new taxes to pay for their preferred social programs. Bloomberg’s Laura Davison and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou took a look at how the top four candidates would fare under their own tax proposals.

Quote of the Day: The Health Care Revolution That Wasn’t

Benis Arapovic/GraphicStock
By The Fiscal Times Staff

“The fact is very little medical care is shoppable. We become good shoppers when we are repeat shoppers. If you buy a new car every three years, you can become an informed shopper. There is no way to become an informed shopper for your appendix. You only get your appendix out once.”

— David Newman, former director of the Health Care Cost Institute, quoted in an article Thursday by Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times. Levey says the “consumer revolution” in health care – in which patients shop around for the best prices, forcing doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical firms to compete with lower prices – hasn’t materialized, but the higher deductibles that were part of the effort are very much in effect. “High-deductible health insurance was supposed to make American patients into smart shoppers,” Levey writes. “Instead, they got stuck with medical bills they can't afford.”

Congressional Report of the Day: The US Pays Nearly 4 Times More for Drugs

A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D.  at a local pharmacy
REUTERS/George Frey
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The House Ways and Means Committee released a new analysis of drug prices in the U.S. compared to 11 other developed nations, and the results, though predictable, aren’t pretty. Here are the key findings from the report:

  • The U.S. pays the most for drugs, though prices varied widely.
  • U.S. drug prices were nearly four times higher than average prices compared to similar countries.
  • U.S. consumers pay significantly more for drugs than other countries, even when accounting for rebates.
  • The U.S. could save $49 billion annually on Medicare Part D alone by using average drug prices for comparator countries.

Read the full congressional report here.

Chart of the Day: How the US Ranks for Retirement

Ken Bosma / Flickr
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The U.S. ranks 18th for retiree well-being among developed nations, according to the latest Global Retirement Index from Natixis, the French corporate and investment bank. The U.S. fell two spots in the ranking this year, due in part to rising economic inequality and poor performance for life expectancy.