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Shapiro: A Deceptive Health Care Debate

Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office announced that it had understated by at least $115 billion the cost of the health care bill when scoring it just days before its March passage. The CBO also explained that its scoring did not include 52 items that had no specific funding level but that the law says shall be given “such sums as may be necessary.”

[IMGCAP(1)]Since the initial CBO scoring, I have questioned whether the government scorekeepers were candid in saying the health care bill will reduce the budget deficit. In April, I challenged Dr. Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, on this when he spoke at the Economic Club of Washington.

It turns out that those of us who expressed skepticism on the health care bill’s deficit-reducing qualities were right. While it feels good to be vindicated, it doesn’t change the fact that the country’s growing fiscal problems threaten our economic future and the success of the U.S. technology industry I represent.

Meanwhile, the health care law will not only explode the federal deficit, it will impose huge new costs on states that must pay for creation of insurance pools and the processing of the estimated 16 million additional Americans to the expanded Medicaid program. Moreover, the law puts an increasing amount of the Medicaid burden on the states. These new costs are a growing concern in state capitols.

Should it matter that the new health care law may raise our federal and state deficits by at least $2 trillion more than promised? Yes. Five percent annual interest on $2 trillion is $100 billion. That means our kids will have to pony up roughly $100 billion each year just to finance the new costs from this bill. With states already in serious fiscal trouble and some cutting school to four-day weeks, this new burden forces us to confront a rather scary future of inflation, choking taxes, cuts in services and a declining economy.

If the public knew the true cost of health care before political leaders sought the rushed and “fixed” CBO scoring, then we would have had a different outcome. If political leaders from both sides who had tried to define the problem, which was originally about millions of underinsured Americans, agreed on the facts and debated different solutions and their true costs, we would have had a more intelligent discussion and a much better result. Maybe we could have had tort reform as part of the law, which would save about $40 billion in spending, according to the CBO.

We have never before had such a deception as we have had with the health care bill. From President Barack Obama’s statement that doctors are incentivized $50,000 to cut off the feet of diabetics, to Democrats’ claims that health care in the United States is deficient compared with other countries based on irrelevant statistics, to Republicans’ misleading claims of death panels, the level of misrepresentation of the facts was abhorrent. And despite the CBO correction, if you go the White House website you will still see the fiction that the health care law will “reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next ten years.”

Some people explain these deliberate deceptions through the old adage “the ends justify the means.” This Machiavellian logic eliminated any chance for cost-effective improvements in health care coverage, which a reasoned examination of the facts would have aided.

Sooner or later our nation is going to have to address our serious budget crisis. It will require touch decisions, compromises and, above all, an adherence to facts. Americans deserve the truth. Sadly, they did not get it in the health care debate.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.

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