By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor
September 10, 2010 -- President Obama on Friday said that "bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do," and the administration's goal in the health care law is to "slowly bring down those costs."
Millions of uninsured Americans will gain coverage under the new law, Obama said. And "at the margins that's going to increase our costs, we knew that." Nonetheless, the long-term trends for how much families will pay for their coverage will be improved because of the law, he said.
Obama's remarks at a press conference came in response to a report earlier this week by government actuaries and economists that the law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) will push national health spending to grow by 6.3 percent annually through 2019. That's slightly above the 6.1 percent growth predicted prior to the law's passage and other legislative action on health care.
Republicans have seized upon the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid report as evidence of "Democrats' health care cost problem," in the words of the Senate Republican Communications Center, and contend it contradicts promises that the president and Democrats made that the law would help reduce health care costs.
Senate Republicans quoted Obama saying on March 3, "My proposal would bring down the cost of health care for millions: families, businesses and the federal government."
The CMS paper was published in the journal Health Affairs.
Obama said he's been saying the same thing all along, that it's difficult to tame spiraling costs. "We've got hundreds of thousands of providers and doctors and systems and insurers," he said. "And what we did was we took every idea out there about how to reduce or at least slow the costs of health care over time.
"But I said at the time, it wasn't going to happen tomorrow, it wasn't going to happen next year. It took us decades to get into a position where our health care costs were going up 6, 7, 10 percent a year. And so our goal is to slowly bring down those costs."
The goal is to keep costs rising at the level of inflation or slightly above, he said, which would be "huge progress."
White House officials after the press conference circulated a blog posted by commentator Ezra Klein of the Washington Post in which Klein said that "I don't think President Obama's answer was particularly clear" and pointed out that spending will substantially increase in 2014 when the exchanges are created. After that, from 2015 through 2019. Spending is projected to increase 6.7 percent annually, which is less than the 6.8 percent growth expected prior to enactment of the health law, Klein said.
Nonetheless some recent polls have found support for the law sagging. Asked about Democrats who are avoiding the topic of the health law or expressing their opposition to it, Obama said lawmakers have to make their own political calculations.
"We're in a political season where every candidate out there has their own district, their own makeup, their own plan, their own message," he said. "And in an environment where we've still got 9.5 percent unemployment, people are going to make the best argument they can right now."