President Barack Obama met at the White House Monday with a coalition of healthcare providers and other healthcare organizations who pledged in a May 11 letter to reduce the annual healthcare spending growth rate by 1.5%—saving an anticipated $2 trillion over the next decade.
The symbolism of the meeting was not lost on the president. "It's a meeting that might not have been held just a few years ago," the president said. "The groups who are here today represent different constituencies with different sets of interests. They've not always seen eye to eye with each other or with our government on what needs to be done to reform healthcare in this country."
Among those in attendance were: George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan; Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP); Jay Gellert, president and CEO of Health Net Inc.; Thomas Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars Sinai Health System; Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA); Ken Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association; J. James Rohack, MD, president elect of the American Medical Association (AMA); Richard Clark, chairman, president, and CEO, Merck; and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union.
The president even poked fun at the fictional television couple Harry and Louise, who initially became the iconic faces of those who opposed healthcare reform in the 1990s in ads produced by one of the groups at the meeting Monday. He commented that these characters now "desperately need healthcare reform in 2009."
Among the proposals that the healthcare representatives said could hold costs down are: simplifying administrative costs, making hospitals more efficient, reducing hospitalizations, managing chronic illnesses more productively, using proven clinical prevention strategies, and expanding healthcare information technology.
The president did not specifically address how this coalition's proposals jibe with his vision of a public insurance plan. However, he did say that he still is "committed to ensuring that whatever plan we design upholds three basic principles": bringing rising healthcare costs down; permitting individuals to keep their current physicians or health plans—or choose new ones if they want to; and promoting quality, affordable care.
"Their efforts will help us take the next and most important step comprehensive healthcare reform so that we can . . . save a typical family an average of $2,500 on their healthcare costs in the coming years," the president said. "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."
"Our message is clear: the private sector will do its part to bend the healthcare cost curve," AHIP's Ignagni said in a statement. "We also agree...that universal coverage will not be sustainable, and that Medicare and Medicaid will not remain solvent—unless the nation addresses the cost issue head on."
"Defensive medicine continues to be a major factor in rising costs," the AMA's Rohack said. "We need medical liability reforms that help physicians provide the best care—without needing to order additional services to guard against possible lawsuits."
The current healthcare system is "fragmented and complex, making it hard for patients to get the care they need at the right time and in the right setting," said AHA's President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock. "We need to build a better system—one that puts a premium on wellness and prevention, places a greater focus on quality, harnesses the promise of information technology to improve care, and provides coverage for all at an affordable cost."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), who had met recently with several of the White House attendees at two committee roundtables, said he was "very pleased that the ideas proposed by these industry groups" meet his goals of "increasing focus on value, efficiency, and prevention in the healthcare system."