This week the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee begins its consideration of the "Affordable Health Choices Act," draft legislation sponsored by Senate HELP Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). This legislation, which requires individuals to have health care coverage and paves the way for the establishment of American Health Benefit Gateways to to help facilitate the purchase of insurance, has been estimated by the nonpartisan, independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to have a price tag of $1 trillion over a ten-year period.
That's right, folks – $1 trillion. And, according to CBO's estimate, that really will only result in 16 million fewer uninsured individuals in the United States. Sure, the proposal will help 39 million people obtain insurance, but it also will likely result in 23 million people losing insurance they already have through employer-sponsored plans or other sources. The CBO's estimate doesn't take into account the "gaps" in the proposal, which are left for policy debates on a government-run, "public option" program and so-called "play or pay" rules, which would require employers either to provide health benefits to their employees or pay into a government kitty to help finance other options.
This is just the Senate HELP Committee's proposal – the Senate Finance Committee is still tinkering with its draft health care reform package in light of a preliminary CBO score that showed it would cost about $1.3 trillion. The House Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor Committees are working together on draft comprehensive health care reform legislation: cost unknown.
Clearly, the nation's health care system needs work – costs have skyrocketed out of control and there are 46 million uninsured Americans. But while it is uncertain what form health care reform will ultimately take, one thing is for sure – it won't be cheap.