Private health-insurance companies get ready to self-medicate

Big healthcare industry players promise the White House they'll get on board with reform -- so they don't get trampled by it.

Topics: Healthcare Reform, Barack Obama,

Private health-insurance companies get ready to self-medicate

If Harry and Louise were around today, the fictional couple from political ads that helped kill healthcare reform 15 years ago would probably still be worrying about their coverage. But instead of complaining that the government was trying to make healthcare decisions for them, they — like millions of other Americans — might be wondering why their insurance premiums keep rising or how they’d pay their medical bills if they lost their jobs.

That, at least, was the message coming out of the White House Monday. Major players in healthcare, from the drug companies to the insurance providers to hospitals and doctors, joined President Obama to commit to serious reform by the end of the year. Some of the organizations that have fought hardest against changing the system in the past are — for now, at least — saying they’ll work for it this time around. To demonstrate how serious they are, they joined Obama Monday to say they’ll work voluntarily to cut the growth rate of healthcare costs by 1.5 percent each year for the next decade. Unchecked, costs would increase by more than 6 percent a year, so the administration says the country — private employers and the government combined — would save $2 trillion from the effort. An average family of four could save $2,500 a year within five years.

But the announcement could mean more politically than financially — especially since the administration admitted there’s no way to force the groups to do what they say they’ll do. The proposal from the healthcare players was light on specifics, but it was fairly heavy on symbolism; getting everyone from the Service Employees International Union to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on the same page before serious debate on healthcare legislation begins means the White House has the political momentum, and opponents of reform don’t.

“What’s brought us all together today is a recognition that we can’t continue down the same dangerous road we’ve been traveling for so many years, that costs are out of control, and that reform is not a luxury that can be postponed but a necessity that cannot wait,” Obama said. “It’s 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.”

You Might Also Like

Among the groups involved in the announcement were America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group for insurers and a successor to the organization that ran the Harry and Louise ads that helped kill former President Bill Clinton’s healthcare reform push in the 1990s. Doctors, represented by the American Medical Association, were on board, even though proposals to tie insurance payments for services to the effectiveness and efficiency of the care involved has many physicians anxious. Medical device makers, hospitals and unions signed on, too.

Some of the savings could come from implementing common billing practices and insurance claim forms, from reducing unnecessary — but expensive — tests and procedures, from improving electronic medical records to coordinate care better and other back-end steps. But another part of the push will involve more preventive care, hoping to keep people healthy rather than treating them when they get sick, and evaluating current practices and phasing out treatments that don’t work. Those could prove more difficult to put in place.

Administration officials played the news cannily, organizing a conference call Sunday but barring reporters from writing about it until 9 p.m., which meant Monday’s papers previewed the announcement, and the White House could get two days of coverage out of the news. On Sunday, aides portrayed the agreement as a major sign of progress, saying the groups signed on because they recognized that reform was coming. Fixing the healthcare system is broadly popular; by signing up with Obama at the outset, the corporate interests involved can influence the process, rather than sitting and waiting for reform to happen to them. (Some liberal bloggers, including Salon contributors David Sirota and Robert Reich, worried that Monday’s announcement will mean the established healthcare system co-opts Obama’s mandate for change.)

By Monday, Obama was already looking ahead to the next step. Without broad reforms, he said, the cost reductions won’t work. “The only way these steps will have an enduring impact is if they are taken not in isolation, but as part of a broader effort to reform our entire healthcare system,” he said.

When Congress takes up healthcare later this summer, Obama may need all the political chits he can line up ahead of time. His first pick for secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Daschle, told Politico recently he still thinks reform has only a 50-50 chance of passing. Privately, Republican strategists said Monday that the White House had started the debate off well by lining up such broad support so early.

But the GOP was already showing signs it may try to resist. “The administration has yet to answer the fundamental question of how to pay for its massive multi-trillion healthcare plan,” House GOP leader John Boehner said in a statement. “Will the administration raise taxes on families and small businesses? Will it ration care so that families and seniors face long waits for medical treatment? Will it borrow even more money and pass the debt on to our kids and grandkids?” Harry and Louise may have joined the reform effort this time around. But that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t still planning to use their old script.


Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>