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CBO Proactively Anticipates Lawmakers’ Needs, Says CBO Director

At a joint Coalition for Affordable Health Coverage (CAHC) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on July 12th, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Douglas Elmendorf said the agency has begun to research the effectiveness of healthy behavior on controlling health care costs.

At the conference, during which NASE Senior Health Policy Advisor Mike Beene also spoke, Elmendorf said the agency is looking at how taxes on tobacco impact smoking rates and how these changes affect spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs. Instead of simply responding to congressional reports to estimate the costs of legislation, the agency is proactively trying to anticipate lawmakers’ needs to provide a more comprehensive costs/benefits analysis, he added.

When questioned further, Elmendorf said creating federal policies that consistently promote healthier behavior is difficult.

“We don’t now have a set of policies at hand with demonstrated links to many… changes in behavior,” he said.

However, taxing tobacco appears to be the exception to the norm. Various research studies have shown that when taxes cause the costs of cigarettes to rise, smoking rates fall. The CBO’s research focuses on the link between these trends and whether these trends have broader affects on health care costs.   

“We have a significant project under way at the CBO around tobacco in particular,” Elmendorf said. “We view that as a very important piece of work and one that we plan to apply to other sorts of policies in the behavioral area.”

While the implications of healthier behavior on controlling the costs of health care remain unclear, various federal agencies have promoted healthier behavior in order to combat smoking, obesity, alcohol abuse and other issues.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has a page with information about healthy lifestyles, with links to resources to help with obesity, smoking and other lifestyle choices.

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