No one could have seen this coming

I’m shocked, shocked to read that

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.

Jason Rosenbaum has more on the story at Health Care for America Now.

Looks like the White House was a bit too eager to herald a breakthrough with various interest groups that want to block serious health care reform.

I think David Sirota was on to something when he wrote on Monday,

Isn’t President Obama legitimizing voices that will use that added credibility later on to try to derail serious health care reform? Today’s press conference has the President of the United States effectively saying that the health insurance industry should have a major seat at the health-reform table – and that it should be trusted. But any serious health care reform will need to take on the health insurance industry in a way that will make that industry unhappy. When that eventually happens, won’t the previous efforts to legitimize the health insurance industry’s voice add credibility to its opposition to reform? […]

Obama’s political calculus throughout his life has been to avoid making enemies. He seems to believe that he can make lots of different interests happy – and on many issues, that’s certainly possible. But on some issues, like health care, it’s a binary fight: Either you appease the health industry and preserve the status quo they are making big bucks off of, or you take on the health industry and make real change. Touting the industry’s “voluntary” commitment to not rip off consumers seems more in the appeasing camp than in the “real change” camp.

Obama won’t be able to get the health care reform we need without making enemies among those who profit from the current system. When push comes to shove, he may need a dose of FDR’s “I Welcome Their Hatred” tonic.

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Two ways of looking at today's health care reform news

The White House is making a huge deal out of a commitment to introduce cost-saving measures from “the presidents of Pharma, Advamed (device manufacturers), the American Medical Association (doctors), the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and SEIU’s Health Care project.”

The White House arranged an urgent Sunday-afternoon conference call with reporters to break the news, and President Obama went on tv on Monday to talk about it. (Click here for the transcript of Obama’s televised remarks.)

Unlike the 1970s, when stakeholders’ promises to hold down costs derailed legislative action on health care, Obama made clear today that the current agreement on savings is “complementary to and is going to be completely compatible with a strong, aggressive effort to move health care reform through here in Washington [….]”

It’s too early to know how significant today’s announcement will be, so I’m laying out the cases for optimism and pessimism after the jump.

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