On Monday, along with others, I raised questions about the mystery $2 trillion in savings that the health care industry pledged in a deal with Obama. At the time, despite the absurdity, the agreement nonetheless seemed like a public relations coup for the White House, evidence of the grand alliance among insurers, doctors, hospitals, drug companies and unions for national health care. But now I see this New York Times report:
WASHINGTON — Hospitals and insurance companies said Thursday that President Obama had substantially overstated their promise earlier this week to reduce the growth of health spending.
Mr. Obama invited health industry leaders to the White House on Monday to trumpet their cost-control commitments. But three days later, confusion swirled in Washington as the companies’ trade associations raced to tamp down angst among members around the country.
After meeting with six major health care organizations, Mr. Obama hailed their cost-cutting promise as historic.
“These groups are voluntarily coming together to make an unprecedented commitment,” Mr. Obama said. “Over the next 10 years, from 2010 to 2019, they are pledging to cut the rate of growth of national health care spending by 1.5 percentage points each year — an amount that’s equal to over $2 trillion.”
Health care leaders who attended the meeting have a different interpretation. They say they agreed to slow health spending in a more gradual way and did not pledge specific year-by-year cuts.
“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding that has caused a lot of consternation among our members,” said Richard J. Umbdenstock, the president of the American Hospital Association. “I’ve spent the better part of the last three days trying to deal with it.”
Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said “the president misspoke” on Monday and again on Wednesday when he described the industry’s commitment in similar terms. After providing that account, Ms. DeParle called back about an hour later on Thursday and said: “I don’t think the president misspoke. His remarks correctly and accurately described the industry’s commitment.”
I find this via Michelle Malkin, who cites it as another example of Obama inflating the promises of private industry, as he did with Caterpillar during the stimulus debate. But I’m not so ready to pin this one on Obama. If you go back and read the actual letter the groups sent him on Monday, it states:
As restructuring takes hold and the population’s health improves over the coming decade, we will do
our part to achieve your Administration’s goal of decreasing by 1.5 percentage points the annual
health care spending growth rate—saving $2 trillion or more.
All of the groups met with Obama in the White House on Monday, and flanked him as he gave a speech touting the proposed savings, which were then blasted all over the news. And somehow, amid all of this, his claims went unchallenged by the groups until now. A much more likely explanation is that the groups received a lot of complaints from their members over the agreement, and so now they are trying to backtrack.
Whichever side you choose to believe, however, this episode is sure to breed mistrust among the players. And remember, the fact that all of these groups were coming together to cooperate was seen as evidence that the environment is a lot different this time than it was in 1993/94, when the industry groups actively opposed HillaryCare. But Monday’s publicity stunt will have backfired if public finger pointing starts to break this alliance apart.