Friday, February 4, 2011

Is Richard Foster Right About Health Care Costs? - Kaiser Health News

by Jonathan Cohn, Senior Editor of The New Republic

Last week, before a lower federal judge in Florida declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, another relatively obscure government figure generated news about health care reform. It was Richard Foster, the chief actuary at the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid.

During a Capitol Hill hearing, Foster was asked to judge claims that the health law would "hold down costs." Foster said he thought the claim was "false … more than true." Critics of the overhaul seized on his comments as proof that they have been right -- and proponents have been wrong -- about the law's fiscal impact.

It's a legitimate argument. Unlike the controversy over death panels, the issue of how much health reform will ultimately cost is both complicated and open to honest differences of opinion. And unlike, say, the right-wing scare-monger Betsy McCaughey, Rick Foster is a bona fide expert with a record of intellectual integrity. Remember those stories about the government official who, in 2003, challenged the Bush Administration's optimistic projections about what the Medicare drug bill would cost? Foster was that official.

But if we're going to take Foster seriously, it's important to be clear about what he said, what he didn't say, and what it all it means.
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