After claiming public option would increase health bill costs, Special Report doesn't note contrary CBO finding

››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

On Special Report, Carl Cameron and Brit Hume previously claimed that adding a public insurance option would substantially increase the cost of the Senate health committee's health reform bill, but the program has yet to note the CBO's finding to the contrary.

On Fox News' Special Report, following the June 15 release of a preliminary Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of an incomplete version of the Senate health committee's health reform bill, both chief political correspondent Carl Cameron and senior political analyst Brit Hume pointed to the analysis to claim that adding a public insurance option would substantially increase the bill's cost, thus endangering its passage. But no one on the program has yet noted that CBO's July 2 score of what the committee's chair referred to as the "complete bill" found that, in the words of CBO director Douglas W. Elmendorf, the public option "did not have a substantial effect on the cost ... projection."

Additionally, in the week following the release of the initial June 15 CBO score, Special Report hosts, analysts, and correspondents repeatedly suggested that the score indicated that the bill cost too much and did not insure enough people, using that in part to ask if, in the words of host Bret Baier, "Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's health care system [is] flat-lining on Capitol Hill." However, during the program's one brief mention of CBO's July 2 score since it was released in part on July 1, Special Report guest host Chris Wallace did not note that the cost estimates came from the CBO, instead attributing them to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), nor did he explain that the new score found greater coverage of uninsured than the prior score -- information that undercuts prior suggestions that health reform is "flat-lining."

Indeed, according to CBO's July 2 score of the HELP bill, under the legislation, 21 million fewer Americans would be uninsured in 2019 than under current law. In a July 1 letter to members of the HELP committee, publicly released the following day, Kennedy and Dodd wrote that the "Congressional Budget Office has carefully reviewed our complete bill, and we are pleased to report that the CBO has scored it at $611.4 billion over 10 years, with the new coverage provisions scored at $597 billion" -- a cost they noted was a "significant reduction from earlier estimates." The preliminary score of the complete bill that the committee released stated that Title I of the bill would increase the deficit by $597 billion over 10 years.

Additionally, Elmendorf explained in a July 2 letter to Kennedy about the score that the public option "did not have a substantial effect on the cost or enrollment projections, largely because the public plan would pay providers of health care at rates comparable to privately negotiated rates -- and thus was not projected to have premiums lower than those charged by private insurance plans in the exchanges."

By contrast, CBO's June 15 score of an incomplete version of the HELP bill -- which Elmendorf made clear did not include a public option or an employer mandate -- found that under the legislation, 17 million fewer Americans would be uninsured in 2019 than under current law, at a cost of approximately $1 trillion over 10 years.

While the CBO's new score found that the public option "did not have a substantial effect on the cost ... projection," as well as that the HELP bill had a significantly lower cost and covered more uninsured Americans compared to the prior score, the new score has received only 30 seconds of coverage on Special Report:

WALLACE: Two key Senate Democrats are calling for a government-run health insurance option to compete against private plans, as well as a fee for companies that don't offer coverage to their workers. Chris Dodd and Ted Kennedy say the cost of their new plan would be about $611 billion over 10 years. That's considerably cheaper than the $1 trillion estimate for an earlier proposal. The senators want companies that refuse to offer coverage to pay fines of $750 per employee. Companies with fewer than 25 workers would be exempt.

By contrast, Fox analysts and correspondents on Special Report repeatedly covered the preliminary CBO analysis, claiming that the inclusion of a public insurance provision would increase the cost of the bill and suggesting that adding such a policy would make the bill's passage even less likely. For example, during the June 16 edition of the show, Hume claimed that the score is "a very big deal" in part because of the cost and low number of individuals insured under the bill, and added that the projected cost was "too low" in part because it did not include the cost of the public option:

HUME: That is to say, the public option where you would have a government-sponsored health plan that would compete with private health plans and so on, even though I might add, Bret, that piece of this is not part of the Congressional Budget Office estimate. So you can see all the ways in which this number is likely -- this already staggering number is likely too low.

Similarly, during the June 18 edition of the show, Cameron asserted at the beginning of his health care report "[t]here is already trouble," noting CBO's cost and uninsured estimates. He then added: "And lawmakers have not tackled the most costly and controversial issues, the so-called public option, meaning taxpayer funded government insurance and the so-called pay or play pan which would fine businesses and individuals for non-participation. Republicans think Democrats are on defense."

Additionally, in Special Report's coverage of the first CBO score, Fox hosts, analysts, and correspondents suggested that the cost and the number insured according to the score amounted to a significant setback for the passage of health reform legislation. For example, during the June 16 edition of the show, Baier said that the CBO score "exposes troubling numbers behind the leading health care reform bill on Capitol Hill."

During the June 18 edition of Special Report, Baier asserted that "the administration's health care reform push appears to be in real trouble on Capitol Hill tonight," later adding that "there are real questions about where the initiative stands now." Later during the program, teasing an upcoming panel discussion about health reform that focused in large part on the CBO score, Baier asked "is President Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's health care system flat-lining on Capitol Hill?" During his remarks, Fox aired on-screen text asking "Critical Condition?" and featuring a picture of Dodd and other members of the HELP committee:

During the subsequent panel discussion, Fox contributor and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer asserted, in part: "That's the big setback this week, was one number, the CBO number that came out." Later Baier remarked: "The crazy part about the CBO numbers and the House Speaker saying that she is frustrated with the CBO -- if the CBO completed the entire analysis of the plan once the bill is finished, the number really is going to be a lot higher." On-screen text asserting "Debate Over Health Care Reform Gets Off To A Rocky Start" aired periodically throughout the panel discussion:

And during the June 19 edition, guest host Wallace teased a report from senior White House correspondent Major Garrett, saying, in part, that "health care reform is being slowed by a severe case of sticker shock in the two Senate committees responsible for the legislation." Garrett went on note the CBO's score of the HELP bill in his report.

Media Matters for America previously documented that ABC and CBS evening newscasts both reported on the Congressional Budget Office's June 15 preliminary analysis of an incomplete version of the Senate bill, but did not report on the CBO's analysis of the "complete bill" in their July 2 editions.

From the June 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report (accessed from the Nexis database):

BAIER: A preliminary government report exposes troubling numbers behind the leading health care reform bill on Capitol Hill. And our own Steve Harrigan gets caught in the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan between U.S. forces and insurgents. All that plus Brit Hume's analysis and the all-star panel, right here, right now.

[...]

BAIER: President Obama has thrown the full weight of his office behind health care reform this week, but a preliminary government report has put the spotlight on the overhaul's price tag, at least part of it.

Early numbers from the Congressional Budget Office indicate the leading bill under consideration in Congress, under Ted Kennedy's bill, would cost the government $1 trillion over the next decade, reduce the ranks of the uninsured by just a third, providing 16 million more people with health insurance.

The CBO report says 39 million people would join a federally sponsored health care plan but that 15 million of those would leave their employer-sponsored plan to do so. Again, this is all a preliminary look at a not-yet-completed bill, one of two in the Senate and several in the House. But all analysts say it won't get any cheaper and the overall price tag is expected to be a lot higher.

Senior political analyst Brit Hume is here with his thoughts. Hello, Brit.

HUME: Hi, Bret.

BAIER: The CBO report, we know it's initial, it's preliminary. The bill is not finished, but how important in the big picture is this that it's out now?

HUME: This is a very big deal for several reasons. One is, first of all, it's a huge number. A trillion dollars.

It's actually something like $1.3 trillion. And it is almost certainly a low number, and here's why or at least just part of why.

The measure, if enacted, phases in gradually, so it doesn't get up to its full spending power for two or three or four years. In the first three years of the ten-year period being estimated, the costs are relatively negligible and then it really gets going.

If you start your ten-year period for measuring this, a few years down the road when the program is really up and running, the costs are closer to $2 trillion. This is a big deal at a time when there's growing worry about federal budget deficits, no clear way to pay for anything quite that big and increasing political signs politically that that issue, deficits matter.

BAIER: This is as we said one bill but it's Senator Ted Kennedy's bill and obviously he campaigned with then-Senator Obama during the campaign.

This is how the White House reacted to the CBO report on the Kennedy's bill saying, quote Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman saying, "This is not the administration's bill, and it's not even the final Senate committee bill." He goes on to talk about how there's a real concern about deficits and how it's important that they do all of this now. But Robert Gibbs saying "this is not our bill."

HUME: It isn't their bill, strictly speaking, but it contains most of the elements that President Obama said in some instances as recently as yesterday he wanted in the bill. That is to say, the public option where you would have a government-sponsored health plan that would compete with private health plans and so on, even though I might add, Bret, that piece of this is not part of the Congressional Budget Office estimate.

So you can see all the ways in which this number is likely -- this already staggering number is likely too low.

BAIER: And quickly, the big question is how many people are we talking about who are uninsured and will they all be covered in any plan?

HUME: Well, as a political matter, the fact this is only going to -- that the estimate is this would only take care of about 16 million of the nearly 50 million said to be unemployed in this country --

BAIER: Uninsured.

HUME: Uninsured, excuse me -- uninsured in this country is a huge deal politically. As a practical matter, that number, 50 that's tossed around, something in the neighborhood of 50 is undoubtedly high because it contains a lot of people who opt out of the plan because they're young and healthy and don't think they need insurance and can't afford it or don't want to afford it.

A lot of people are eligible for other government programs who haven't signed up for them and an undetermined number, perhaps in the millions of illegal aliens and a lot of Americans would not choose to cover anyway, so the number may be high. But the fact that all of them aren't being covered is a blow against this bill.

BAIER: OK. Something we'll be talking about for a while. Thanks, Bret.

HUME: You bet.

From the June 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report (accessed from the Nexis database):

BAIER: Next on Special Report, the administration's health care reform push appears to be in real trouble on Capitol Hill tonight. We'll explain.

The Pentagon deploys missiles to Hawaii after reports that North Korea could fire a long range missile directly at the U.S. And now, the U.S. is tracking the North Korean ship. Tonight, you will hear from former president George W. Bush defending the decisions he made while in office.

And Iran's president says there's no way that angry rioters in his country are Iranian. Well, whoever they are, more of them took the streets today. All of that, plus the all-star panel, right here, right now.

Welcome to Washington, I'm Bret Baier. Despite concern from most Republicans and some Democrats, the Senate today pushed ahead on what were supposed to be the easy parts of the plan to overhaul healthcare in this country, but many quickly found out that almost everything about revamping the system is contentious, and tonight, there are real questions about where the initiative stands now. Chief political correspondent Carl Cameron has the story.

[begin video clip]

CAMERON: There is already trouble.

DODD: The meeting will come to order.

CAMERON: Two days into seven hearings on a partial healthcare reform plan that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost $1 trillion over 10 years, but would still leave 37 million people uninsured.

And lawmakers have not tackled the most costly and controversial issues, the so-called public option, meaning taxpayer funded government insurance and the so-called pay or play pan which would fine businesses and individuals for non-participation. Republicans think Democrats are on defense.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): They obviously don't have their policies enough together to move forward. I think the only reasonable thing is to go back to the drawing board. Let's go back to the beginning.

CAMERON: Democrats came to a similar conclusion after a preliminary peek at additional Congressional Budget Office cost estimates for the controversial pay or play and government health insurance components. The analysis quickly sent Democrats back behind closed doors to rework things.

DODD: We can't have a bill that costs too much and doesn't affect the number of people you want.

CAMERON: Opposition to government-run health insurance is so pronounced, former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle this week worried that it threatens the whole bill.

TOM DASCHLE, (former Senate majority leader): That the ongoing healthcare bill debate is beginning to show signs of fracture on the public plan issue.

CAMERON: Before income tax problems derailed him, Daschle was the president's original pick to run healthcare reform. The woman who got the job, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, deflected questions about reform delays all week, as did the White House today.

ROBERT GIBBS (White House press secretary): I don't think it is a surprise that this is going to take some time to do. It is an issue that we have been discussing for 40 years.

CAMERON: Another problem, conflicts with Montana Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, working on a similar competing bill. The Congressional Budget Office puts its price tag at $1.6 trillion which sent Baucus back to the drawing board, too. Democrats admit their own non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is testing their patience.

HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: It has always been a source of yes, I'll say, frustration, for many of us in the Congress that the CBO will always give you the worst-case scenario on one initiative and never a best-case.

[end video clip]

CAMERON: It is usually not a very good sign when elected partisan politicians begin pointing fingers of blame at their salaried non-partisan staffers. Hoping to show some sort of progress, House Democrats say they will unveil some of their healthcare reform ideas tomorrow, but don't expect any specifics. Just about nobody on Capitol Hill is any close to getting anywhere near those, Bret.

[...]

BAIER: Well, is President Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's health care system flat-lining on Capitol Hill? There was more partisan sniping today. The Fox all-stars will give their diagnosis next.

[...]

FRED BARNES, (Weekly Standard executive editor): Look, Bret, when Nancy Pelosi is now in a fight with the Congressional Budget Office --

BAIER: The nonpartisan Congressional --

BARNES: Nonpartisan -- look, she never complained about some of the findings that they would make about President Bush's budget or things Republicans were doing. But now she is upset about it.

But she is upset for the wrong reason, because what's killing the health care plans of Obama and Democrats are how much it costs.

And it comes after a time that voters are already terrified by all these spending plans of President Obama. You have the stimulus, you have $9.3 trillion in increased debt over the next ten years, and on and on and on, all this expensive stuff.

And, they basically, the public does not buy, nor should they the argument that somehow we are going to provide more health care coverage and it will cost you less. I mean, that just doesn't stand to reason.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER (syndicated columnist): That's the big setback this week, was one number, the CBO number that came out, which estimated the Obama plan, or at least the one coming out of Congress --

BAIER: Ted Kennedy's bill.

KRAUTHAMMER: The Kennedy plan would add $1.6 trillion in deficit spending.

The reason it is devastating is because it put a real number on the essential contradiction of the Obama fiscal idea. His idea, a correct idea, is that the way to control exploding deficits with all of the programs he's proposing is to bend the curve to lower the cost of entitlements, particularly the Medicare and Medicaid.

He's right. If you do that, it would save so much it would even allow for all the trillions thrown away on stimulus and other stuff.

The contradiction is that when you look at the health care, the real plan in the real world as proposed now, it bends the curve upwards to $1.6 trillion additional spending, and that explodes the whole idea of a fiscally responsible plan.

BAIER: And it's important to point out that these CBO numbers are only partial, and it's not a completed bill, both for Kennedy and Baucus, two different bills --

MARA LIASSON (NPR national political correspondent): When the Senate Finance Committee got its initial report card from the CBO that it was going to cost $1.6 trillion, they went back to the drawing board, because they have to get it under $1 trillion. That's what Max Baucus wants.

One way to do that is to --

[inaudible]

LIASSON: It is still a lot, but one way to make it cost less is to get to universal coverage more slowly. In other words, roll out the expansion of coverage more slowly.

What means is you are putting all the pain up front, the mandates, the taxes, and the spending cuts, but the goodies, everybody getting health insurance, is delayed. And that's politically really risky, because you could have a backlash against the pain before people are grateful to the government for the good stuff.

BAIER: The crazy part about the CBO numbers and the House Speaker saying that she is frustrated with the CBO -- if the CBO completed the entire analysis of the plan once the bill is finished, the number really is going to be a lot higher.

BARNES: It only covers something like 16 million of the supposed 46 million --

[crosstalk]

BARNES: That what I'm talking about -- 16 million of the supposed $46 million people who have no health insurance.

You know the McCain plan last year, which I think the CBO looked at, or somebody, and somebody cost it out. You got -- you covered about 8 million people without insurance, and it cost zero.

From the June 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report (accessed from the Nexis database):

CHRIS WALLACE (guest host): House Democrats unveiled draft health care legislation today they said would cover the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured. But they offered little detail how they would pay for it. On the other side of the capitol, health care reform is being slowed by a severe case of sticker shock in the two Senate committees responsible for the legislation. Senior White House correspondent Major Garrett reports.

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: These hours have been a waste of time when we don't know what the bill costs.

DODD: Here we do know, in fact, what the CBO estimates are, and the titles. We're working on the bill. Let me finish.

GARRETT (voice over): This is the sound of health care reform grinding to a halt. Republicans like John McCain are furious they've been cut out of the process.

Florida Democrat Bill Nelson said today health care reform is on life support due to rising concerns about taxpayer cost. In the House, Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper said fellow Democrats are "explicitly told not to work with Republicans."

And the Senate Committee that has to pay for health reform dumped the president's cherished public option as an alternative to private insurance. And that's just to bring the cost of reform near $1 trillion over ten years. The White House said the public option must return.

GIBBS: The president believes it's an important aspect of any health care reform plan that has to go through Congress.

GARRETT: Beyond a public option which is still vague and lacks a cost estimate, the White House appears willing to bow to political reality and accept less coverage and smaller benefits than originally sought.

GIBBS: Obviously, this whole process is going to be about how do we get something that is paid for and gets through the legislative process.

GARRETT: That process is already tough. Republicans, for example, are fighting hard against something called comparative effectiveness boards. They fear the boards will use data on medical procedures to deny care and limit access to specialists.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): But there's a big difference between wanting to save money and rationing care. And that's what we're talking about -- rationing care.

GARRETT: Top Democrats said the goal is sharing information, not mandating care.

DODD: No one is arguing for rationing. No one is suggesting that there ought to be mandates that you have to follow.

GARRETT: But Republicans pressed for clarity. Democrats threatened to cut off debate.

DODD: But I also, you know, know when I'm being taken advantage of to some degree, and I'm not getting to let that happen.

GARRETT: Dodd said 14,000 people in America lose insurance coverage each day and for that reason the committee could not afford to wait. Well, not necessarily.

SEN. MIKE ENZI (R-WY): But CBO says the bill that we have before us causes 10 million people to lose their insurance.

DODD: We've got to fix that.

ENZI: And we've got to fix that. And we have been left out of the drafting.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-MD): Oh, those bureaucrats.

[end video clip]

GARRETT: That exasperated sigh you heard at the end there, "oh, those bureaucrats," that was from Senate Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the third Democrat to complain about Congressional Budget Office scoring at this plan. But here at the White House they say, if it takes a CBO to force these congressional Democrats back to the drawing board, it's OK with us -- Chris.

WALLACE: Major Garrett reporting from the White House. Major, thank you.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Show/Publication
Special Report with Bret Baier
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.