WASHINGTON — The Obama administration pushed back Wednesday against claims that it's not doing enough to slow the growth of health care costs.
White House budget director Peter Orszag cited economists and analysts who say a pending Senate bill would take several steps in that direction. And Orszag left no doubt that the administration supports a provision disliked by many House Democrats, union activists and others: a new tax on generous health insurance plans offered by employers.
A rival health care bill passed by the House would, instead, place a new surtax on millionaires' incomes.
Republicans kept up their criticisms Wednesday, saying the Senate bill would reduce the federal deficit only by raising taxes and cutting Medicare.
In a conference call with reporters, Orszag said critics are overlooking key provisions in the Senate bill. He cited a recent letter from 23 prominent economists praising four main features:
• Making the federal deficit level or lower over 10 years.
• Taxing high-cost, employer-provided insurance plans, which are blamed for overuse of medical care.
• Creating a commission to recommend ways to control Medicare costs.
• Taking preliminary steps to encourage more efficient ways to deliver health care.
The Senate bill "includes these four pillars," Orszag said.
Previous efforts by Congress to rein in health care costs have done little. For instance, vows to trim Medicare reimbursements to doctors are routinely overturned.
The same has been true for efforts to stop what many consider government overpayments to Medicare Advantage, a privately administered program.
But "it's going to happen this year," said Obama health adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle, who also was on the conference call.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the Senate bill would reduce deficits by $130 billion over the next decade. It would do so partly by raising various taxes and by reducing federal spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other programs by $491 billion over 10 years.