No, the HELP Bill Won’t Force You to Lose Your Health Insurance

Ted Kennedy and Jeff Bingaman (HELP Committee photo)

Ted Kennedy and Jeff Bingaman (HELP Committee photo)

The hot public opinion research on health reform indicates that one of the best ways to frighten people about health reform legislation is to convince them that it will force them to lose the insurance they already have. That’s why Barack Obama always goes out of his way to point out that that’s not the case under any of the major legislative proposals under consideration. And that’s also why Cato’s Michael Tanner is trying to imply that Obama’s lying:

During his speech yesterday to the American Medical Association in Chicago, President Obama said not once, but twice that if you have health insurance today and like it, you will be able to keep it under his reform. Shortly afterwards, the congressional budget Office released its initial scoring of the health care bill drafted by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP), concluding that it would result in roughly 23 million people losing the insurance they currently have. Oops!

Only the CBO doesn’t say that and there’s no contradiction here. What the CBO does say is that under the HELP proposal several million people who would have had insurance under the business as usual scenario would have different insurance under the HELP scenario. For example, they estimate that there are about 10 million people who under either scenario would be eligible for employer-provided health care but who under the HELP scenario would be able to get cheaper coverage through an insurance exchange and would elect to do so.

But these aren’t 10 million people “losing the insurance they currently have” these are 10 million people getting a better option and choosing it. And note that the CBO is merely assuming that they would find the new option to be superior. If you preferred to stick with the status quo, nobody would stop you. Obama didn’t promise that everyone would in fact prefer the insurance they have now to the insurance health reform would make available. What he promised was that if you want to keep the insurance you have now, you’ll be able to. Broadly speaking*, the HELP bill meets that goal.

The bill would, of course, apply to the future. And the CBO is talking about how things will be in 2017 or 2019. And there’s really no guarantee that any individual will have the exact same private sector options available to them 10 years in the future. You might change jobs, your company might go out of business, insurance companies might change their offerings, etc. You can’t literally ensure that nothing will change, but the legislative goal is to ensure that the legislation doesn’t force the currently insured to change and it meets that goal.