The Obama administration just can't quit double counting. In a report released earlier today, the administration declared that implementing some of the law's changes "extends the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 12 years from 2017 to 2029, more than doubling the time before the exhaustion of the Trust Fund." And on a conference call this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also touted the extension of the trust fund.
Don't believe it. According to both the Congressional Budget Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the administration's claim is based on misleading double counting. Here's Medicare's chief actuary:
In practice the improved (Medicare hospital insurance) financing cannot be simultaneously used to finance other Federal outlays (such as the coverage expansions) and to extend the trust fund, despite the appearance of this result from the respective accounting conventions.
How do you get away with this sort of budgeting baloney in the face of such an obviously contrary report? If you're Kathleen Sebelius, you claim that it's all a matter of methodology, and that anyway, the Congressional Budget Office actually agrees with you. In an exchange with The American Spectator's Philip Klein this morning, Sebelius said that Medicare's chief actuary "has a different interpretation that is not agreed upon by either the Congressional Budget Office or the OMB or traditionally in Congress." Except that the CBO has, in fact, said that you can't double count the Medicare savings:
The key point is that the savings to the HI [Hospital Insurance] trust fund under the PPACA would be received by the government only once, so they cannot be set aside to pay for future Medicare spending and, at the same time, pay for current spending on other parts of the legislation or on other programs….To describe the full amount of HI trust fund savings as both improving the government's ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings and thus overstate the improvement in the government's fiscal position. [bold added]
Remember when the administration's top budget officer told the New York Times that "the president prefers to tell the truth, rather than make the numbers look better by pretending?" Turns out the administration likes to play make believe after all.