By Jeffrey Young - 05/11/09 01:37 PM EDT
Comprehensive healthcare reform will be accomplished this year, President Obama declared Monday, saying, “I will not rest until the dream of healthcare reform is achieved in the United States of America.”
Obama addressed reporters in the White House after meeting with representatives of physicians, hospitals, health insurers, drug companies, medical device manufacturers and healthcare workers, who jointly vowed to cut national healthcare spending by $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
“This is a historic day, a watershed event in the long and elusive quest for healthcare reform,” he said.
The White House previewed the announcement Sunday and has sought to position the news as a singular moment in the process of drafting a healthcare reform proposal that can pass Congress this year. According to the administration, the measures outlined by the healthcare groups would translate to savings of $2,500 a year for a family of four in five years.
“We cannot continue down the same dangerous road we’ve been traveling for so many years, with costs that are out of control, because reform is not a luxury that can be postponed, it is a necessity that cannot wait,” Obama said.
The president noted that many of the participating industries were among those that helped scuttle previous attempts to resolve out-of-control healthcare spending and provide coverage to the uninsured.
“Some of these groups were among the strongest critics of past plans for comprehensive reform,” Obama said. “That's what makes today's meeting so remarkable — because it's a meeting that might not have been held just a few years ago.”
“All too often, efforts at reform have fallen victim to special-interest lobbying aimed at keeping things the way they are; to political point-scoring that sees healthcare not as a moral issue or an economic issue, but as a wedge issue; and to a failure on all sides to come together on behalf of the American people,” Obama said.
Obama conjured up the image of Harry and Louise, a fictional middle-class couple featured in the health insurance industry’s campaign against President Clinton’s healthcare reform platform. This time, Harry and Louise — and the special interests that created them — are on the side of healthcare reform, Obama said.
“It is a recognition that the fictional television couple, Harry and Louise, who became the iconic faces of those who opposed healthcare reform in the '90s, desperately need healthcare reform in 2009. And so does America,” he said.
According to the interest groups that conceived the proposal, their initiative would reduce national healthcare spending by 1.5 percentage points each year over the next decade, which would translate into $2 trillion in less spending and decrease projected healthcare spending as a percentage of gross domestic from 20.3 percent to 17.6 percent in 2018.
The groups penned a letter to the president in advance of the meeting. Though they do not spell out detailed plans, the groups do suggest ways to reduce spending, such as administrative simplification, payment reforms that would encourage better collaboration between different medical providers, improved management of costly chronic diseases, incentives to better promote prevention and more integration of health information technology.
These types of reforms, which do not touch on more controversial issues such as how to extend coverage to the nearly 50 million people without health insurance, are consistent with legislative proposals being considered by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and other lawmakers.
The promises from these healthcare interest groups also do not come with a means to enforce compliance, the administration conceded. Moreover, the cost-cutting measures endorsed by the organizations will not be enough to offset the $1 trillion-plus expected cost of healthcare reform legislation because Congress only considers the impact on the federal budget, not the entire economy.
Obama indicated that the steps suggested by the healthcare groups are not a substitute for congressional action. “What they're doing is complementary to and is going to be completely compatible with a strong, aggressive effort to move healthcare reform through here in Washington,” he said.
Indeed, senior administration officials told reporters Sunday that many of the ideas would require new laws to be put into practice.