Ezra Klein provides a great service by putting what admittedly look like eye-popping cost numbers into perspective:
We should start by putting the health-care bill into proper perspective. Opponents and supports of the bill have both profited immensely from exploiting the average person's inability to put billions and trillions into context. So let's begin by breaking down the numbers. The $900 billion price tag is repeated with the regularity of a rooster's crow. That's a shame, as the number is, somewhat impressively, misleading in both directions.
On the one hand, that $900 billion -- or, more precisely, $940 billion in the final legislation -- is stretched over 10 years. But people don't think in 10-year increments. They don't pay taxes once a decade. Put more simply, the bill will cost an average of $94 billion a year over the first 10 years.
But that's not quite right either: The bill wouldn't really kick in until 2014. To get a more accurate annual figure, look at a year in which the bill is fully operational. In, say, 2016, the bill's spending will be about $160 billion (you can find these numbers on page 22 of the CBO report). According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, total health-care spending that year will be about $3.7 trillion. In other words, the bill's spending is equivalent to about 4 percent of what we'll spend in health care in a year, and it will be covering 30 million people.
So that's really what we're talking about here -- a large health-care expansion that's a slight fraction of overall spending. The graph on the right tells the tale (though the $175 billion refers to the Senate bill; the reconciliation fixes increase the 2018 spending to about $200 billion, which is no different for the purposes of the image).
Let's go even further: It's an expansion that most people won't notice in 10 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill will change the insurance of about 40 million people by 2019, about 30 million of whom would have been otherwise uninsured. The other 10 million will come from the employer or individual markets in search of more affordable options. About 23 million people will still be uninsured, many of them illegal immigrants. About 90 percent of Americans will be exactly where they'd be if this reform had never passed.