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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan February 22, 2008

Experts rate Dem plans about the same

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hashed out more details on their health care plans at a debate in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 21, 2008, arguing about coverage and costs.

We've looked at coverage claims before. You can check out our evaluations of Clinton's charge that Obama's plan will leave out 15 million people here , or Barack Obama's claim that his plan is universal here .

In Austin, Obama brought up the issue of costs, saying, "As has been noted by many observers, including Bill Clinton's former secretary of labor, my plan does more than anybody to reduce costs."

Both Obama and Hillary Clinton seek to reduce costs by emphasizing preventative care for chronic illnesses; better use of information technology for records and billing; and new research on cost and clinical effectiveness. Each campaign estimates savings for their plan starting at approximately $120 billion per year.

Bill Clinton's former labor secretary is Robert Reich, who has defended Obama's health plan publicly several times, in particular against criticism from The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has written that Hillary Clinton has the superior plan because of its individual mandate.

We reviewed Reich's public comments, though, and couldn't find any instances of him saying that Obama's plan cuts costs more than anyone else's. If anything, Reich has emphasized that all the Democratic plans will cover more people, and the candidates shouldn't squabble over which plan is better.

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"The major Democratic plans would spend nearly an identical amount of money helping low- and middle-income families because they rely on the same source of general revenue, derived from allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire," Reich wrote on his blog. "Given the myriad ways universal health insurance might otherwise be organized -- single payer, employer mandate, health-insurance vouchers, tax credits -- this Democratic consensus is striking. It also highlights the abject failure of Republicans to come up with any coherent plan."

We started looking for other examples of independent experts who said Obama's plan would contain costs more and found no clear-cut consensus. Our friends at checked Obama's health care claims, including what Robert Reich said; see their analysis here .

Even Obama's own experts say putting a cost-savings number on proposed health care reforms can be difficult. Obama asked three Harvard researchers to evaluate how much money his plan would save. They said his measures could conservatively save $120 billion and probably as much as $200 billion. But their findings also stated:

"In sum, each of the measures in the Obama plan has proponents who believe that those reforms will save substantial amounts of money. However, there is no consensus in the research community about how much each element will save, or how much could be saved if these elements were effectively implemented in combination."

Obama clearly believes his plan will reduce costs significantly, and we see no reason to disagree with that. But will it save even more than Hillary Clinton's plan? We find little conclusive evidence of that, nor do we find independent experts willing to argue that case decisively. So we find his claim False.

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Experts rate Dem plans about the same

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