Now We're Talking Real Money

By Dan Froomkin
2:21 PM ET, 05/11/2009

When you're trying to crunch the numbers for America's future, the prospect of ever-skyrocketing health care costs makes everything look really grim.

And that's why the White House's announcement today -- that a broad coalition of health-industry groups is vowing to rein in the growth in health care costs, after years of uncontrolled increases -- is such a big deal. Simply trimming the annual health care spending growth rate by 1.5 percent would be enough to save the nation $2 trillion over 10 years. It would also dramatically slow the increasing cost of Medicare, and would make President Obama's hopes for universal health coverage considerably more affordable.

"This is a historic day, a watershed event in the long and elusive quest for health care reform," Obama said today.

Indeed, in an answer to those of us who weren't too impressed with the $17 billion in possible savings trumpeted by the White House last week, now we're talking real money.

There's more we need to know before getting too excited, however. One is where these "savings" will really come from -- and that we won't know for a while. But the other is what exactly united this extraordinary range of normally competing groups, some of them highly averse to government intrusion. That we should know more quickly.

Were they brought together by altruism? OK, stop laughing. No, the question of course is: What's in it for them? Did they decide that getting on Obama's train was better than being thrown under it? That certainly seems to be a part of it. But these guys are pretty clever. What do they think they're getting in return for one potentially empty promise?

Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times opinion column: "The fact that the medical-industrial complex is trying to shape health care reform rather than block it is a tremendously good omen. It looks as if America may finally get what every other advanced country already has: a system that guarantees essential health care to all its citizens.

"And serious cost control would change everything, not just for health care, but for America’s fiscal future."

Ezra Klein blogs for the American Prospect: "The politics of this should surely cheer supporters of reform. In essence, this is the entire medical industry stepping forward and declaring themselves partners in Obama's effort. It leaves Republicans isolated. It allows the administration to credibly claim that they are working with the stakeholders to cut costs. It puts the industry on record saying that reform will bring new efficiencies rather than increased spending. And it's simple evidence of the momentum building behind the administration's effort. These groups wouldn't be jockeying for a seat at the table if they didn't think everyone was eventually going to sit down."

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