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Obamacare countdown: How will reform affect the economy?

The health-care law could strain household budgets, but drastic impacts on the US economy over the coming decade are unlikely, experts say.

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For all the people who view Obamacare in extreme terms – as either a big economic boost or a disaster – here's another scenario to consider: Maybe the law's impact on the economy will be something more incremental.

That's not to say the law's effects will be only marginal in scope. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) calls for a major expansion in the number of Americans with health insurance, requiring some people to purchase it who otherwise wouldn't.

But more than a few policy experts argue that, when you add up all the changes, the result will be neither a firm containment of the health-cost spiral nor a deeper financial mess.

Some even predict that the US economy will be about the same size, 10 years from now, as it would have been without Obamacare.

"[The law] should shift resources into the health-care sector and in a small way reduce the spending that can occur elsewhere" in the economy, says John Holahan of the Urban Institute, a research group in Washington. But the overall effects on gross domestic product appear likely to be modest, he says.

One main goal of the law is to expand access to insurance, so that people with preexisting conditions, for example, aren't denied coverage.

Conservative critics point to the risk of a new unpaid-for entitlement. But Mr. Holahan says the law has a range of cost-control efforts that promise to hold medical inflation below where it would go if Obamacare were repealed.

At the same time, neither he nor other forecasters envision the law magically reducing US health costs to the share of GDP seen in other advanced nations.

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