So, was the Congressional Budget Office really “way, way off … in every aspect” of how it predicted that Obamacare would work, as the White House claims? No, it wasn’t.
The CBO actually nailed the overall impact of the law on the uninsured pretty closely. It predicted a big drop in the percentage of people under age 65 who would lack insurance, and that turned out to be the case. CBO projected that in 2016 that nonelderly rate would fall to 11 percent, and the latest figure put the actual rate at 10.3 percent.
It’s true (as Trump administration officials have repeatedly pointed out) that CBO greatly overestimated the number who would get government-subsidized coverage through the new insurance exchanges. But at the same time, CBO underestimated the number who would get coverage through expanding Medicaid.
And whatever the failings of CBO’s predictions, they were closer to the mark than those of the Obama administration and some other prominent forecasters.
Let’s look at the details.
Back on March 20, 2010, when the law had taken its final form and was working its way to President Obama’s desk, the CBO issued its official estimate of the cost and effects of the Affordable Care Act. And after the Supreme Court struck down a key part of that law — ruling that states could not be forced to expand eligibility for Medicaid — CBO updated its estimates accordingly in July 2012.
In what follows, we will cite CBO’s 2012 projections unless otherwise indicated, since we can never know how accurate the 2010 projections would have been had the law been allowed to take effect as written.