Projecting health care costs is guesswork at best

If, and when, so-called “health care reform” becomes reality, the man responsible for changing the landscape for health insurance for millions of Americans will be someone you’ve never heard of.

His name is Phil Ellis, a numbers cruncher with the Congressional Budget Office and a man whose spreadsheets spell success or doom for proposed health care reform plans.

As a senior analyst for the CBO, Ellis issues forecasts on what proposed plans will costs. His estimates can kill some bills and put others into play.

The catch is, even Ellis says his numbers are probably wrong.

Reports The Washington Post:

Phil Ellis may be the most powerful guy you’ve never heard of in the health-care debate. A senior analyst with the Congressional Budget Office, Ellis is the man who has to decide what it would cost to rebuild the health insurance system. He has essentially condemned two legislative proposals by slapping them with trillion-dollar price tags. A third plan rocketed to prominence after he said it would cost much less.

In the coming weeks, Ellis’s judgments will shape the fate of President Obama’s reform effort. But Ellis, an amiable father of three who hasn’t had a day off in about six months, is the first to admit that his painstaking numbers are almost certainly wrong.

“We’re always putting out these estimates: This is going to cost $1.042 trillion exactly,” he said. “But you sort of want to add, you know, ‘Your mileage may vary.’ ”

As Democrats embark on a plan to reorder one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the CBO is the umpire, charged by Congress with assessing the effect on the federal budget and the potentially profound impact on American lives. The Senate majority leader has vowed to hold no vote on a health plan until the CBO passes judgment. But the agency, while almost universally praised for honest and impartial analyses, does not have a crystal ball.

“Everyone in the process — especially the CBO — knows that it is very, very difficult to make these estimates and that they’re no more than very educated guesses,” said Alice Rivlin, who served as the CBO’s founding director in 1975. “But if you didn’t have this process, we know that the consequence is that everyone would want to spend money and not pay for it.”