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Inspecting Obama’s health care claims

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CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly described the Lewin Group. It is a health consulting firm owned by UnitedHealth Group, the health insurer.


Kai Ryssdal: In his speech last night, the president laid out his plan for health-care reform in public for the first time. He said the overhaul would cost $900 billion over the next 10 years. And that millions of uninsured people would get coverage. He made some other bold claims, too. And this being the day after the big reveal, you know where this one’s going to go. We asked Tamara Keith to check out a few of those claims.

TAMARA KEITH: President Obama pledged in no uncertain terms that his plan will cover the costs.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit now or in the future. Period.

None of the president’s number crunchers were available, but the analysts I called weren’t so sure about the deficit claim.

John Heath is with the Lewin Group, a health consulting firm owned by UnitedHealth Group. He just analyzed the House health-care bill. It’s a lot like what the president wants.

JOHN SHIELDS: Their bill is pretty much fully paid for in the first 10 years.

But . . .

SHIELDS: The following decade, we would increase the deficit by about a trillion dollars for the program.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We’ve estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health-care system, a system that is currently full of waste and abuse.

Cato Institute fellow Michael Tanner says waste and abuse can be pretty slippery.

MICHAEL TANNER: Yeah, we’ve been trying to find waste, fraud and abuse since, oh, Ronald Reagan I think came up with that phrase. Yet somehow it’s still there.

The president also said his plan would tame health-care inflation.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And if we are able to slow the growth of health-care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year. One-tenth of one percent, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.

I headed straight to a health economist to tackle that one.

STEPHEN PARENTE: I’ve actually got a spreadsheet open right now.

That’s Stephen Parente, from the University of Minnesota.

PARENTE: So once you actually apply the math to, say, one tenth of essentially a percentage point of that change that you’re talking about over a 20 to 30 year period of time, you can actually net out $4 trillion.

Translation? The president’s numbers check out, if you wait 20 or 30 years.

In Washington, I’m Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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