Window to Washington

An inside-the-beltway look at the legislative and regulatory process.

Healthcare reform, numbers and Beltway politics

By Rich Daly
2:45 pm, Mar. 14

This week's updated congressional projections on the 2010 federal healthcare law appear to have reignited the debate over the number of people who will lose their employer-provided coverage because of the law.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation (PDF) concluded Tuesday that up to five times as many people (5 million) will lose their employer-provided coverage by 2016 as the two fiscal organizations estimated would lose it last year.

“Some observers have expressed surprise that CBO and JCT's previous estimates did not show a much larger reduction in the number of people receiving employment-based health insurance,” the report's authors noted. They said the estimated impact on employer-provided insurance was mitigated by the law's continued “substantial financial incentives for firms to offer health insurance coverage” and its creation of some new incentives.

The growing number of people expected to lose their insurance drew sharp criticism from congressional critics of the law.

“This will force these hardworking Americans to purchase government-mandated health insurance in government-run exchanges or pay a penalty,” according to a statement from Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee.

The seriousness of an expected increased loss of employer-provided insurance also was recognized by the Obama administration, which dispatched Jeanne Lambrew, deputy assistant to the president for health policy, to massage the numbers on the White House health blog.

She emphasized that the number is still a relatively small share of the 150 million people who get their coverage through their jobs, and she highlighted earlier estimates that expected less reduction in employer insurance.

“Today's report also does not project major changes in the number of workers who will get coverage through their job,” Lambrew wrote.

Expect the issue to flame up again shortly when the two fiscal organizations are to release a range of estimates for the sources of insurance coverage in future years.

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