Peter Suderman on How the Federal Government Has Made It Harder to Measure Obamacare's Results


In September 2009, when President Obama made a primetime speech pitching his not-yet-passed health care overhaul, he made the following promise: "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits—either now or in the future. Period." To prove his seriousness, he further promised that "there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize."

The promise of deficit reduction was repeated over and over in the months before the bill became law, and it was central to Obamacare's passage. Congressional Democrats would likely not have voted to pass it had the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) not scored the bill as a net reduction in the nation's deficits. Yet earlier this month, the CBO, which provided the original estimate and evidence that the law would be deficit neutral, said that it can no longer score the net fiscal effect of the law in its entirety.

Indeed, there's a lot that will be tough to know about Obamacare, both now and in the future—and it's not just because of the CBO. Over the last few months, a series of reporting and measurement changes from a variety of government agencies have made it vastly more difficult to usefully measure the law's outcomes. A law as sprawling and complex as Obamacare was always going to be a challenge to measure, writes Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman. And these decisions have made it harder still.