CBO: Healthcare bill would reduce deficit by $81 billion

The Congressional Budget Office weighs in with its take on Sen. Max Baucus' legislation

By Alex Koppelman

Published October 7, 2009 8:49PM (EDT)

Liberals are still not happy about the bill put together by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. But as of Wednesday afternoon, it has a few points in its favor: 81 billion of them, in fact. That's because the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation have released their preliminary scoring of the bill, including the conclusion that it would reduce the federal deficit by $81 billion.

The big number that Republicans are likely to focus on isn't the deficit reduction, but the total cost of the bill, which the CBO and JCT estimate at $829 billion. That's high, but the fact that it still allows for a deficit reduction, and comes in well under the $1 trillion price tag that Democrats have feared for political reasons, means that the White House and their allies on the Hill are likely to be very happy.

As for whether the bill would work, the CBO and JCT estimated that it would reduce the number of non-elderly U.S. residents who don't have insurance by 29 million. That would still leave 25 million uninsured, one-third of whom are illegal immigrants. But the percent of non-elderly legal residents who are insured would go up from about 83 percent to about 94 percent, and that's the number that Democrats will focus on.

The full report can be downloaded in PDF form here.

Update: Here's Baucus' statement on the report:

Our balanced approach to health reform has paid off yet again with the news today that the America’s Healthy Future Act remains fully paid for, begins to reduce the federal deficit within ten years and makes significant reductions in federal debt over the next several decades. Most importantly, it improves and expands health care coverage for tens of millions of American families. This legislation is a smart investment on the federal balance sheet, and it’s an even smarter investment for American families, businesses and our economy. Health reform will modernize the health care system for the 21st century by reducing inefficiencies, focusing on quality and ensuring we are getting the best bang for our health care buck. Health reform should be fiscally responsible as it expands and improves coverage and these numbers reiterate that real reform can be just that.

Update 2: Though Democrats are likely to use the CBO's estimated savings to help push for the bill, progressive groups still aren't thrilled about Baucus's draft. "The point of health care reform is not to reduce the deficit," says Jacki Schechner, a spokeswoman for Health Care for America Now, a labor-backed organization that wants reform to include a public insurance option and lower costs more. "It's to make health care more affordable for America's families and businesses. Every penny of the $81 billion should be used to help correct the fact that families still won't be able to afford premiums and out-of-pocket costs under the Senate Finance bill as it stands now. The bill leaves health care much too expensive."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Healthcare Reform Max Baucus D-mont.