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Health Care Industries to Volunteer Cost Cuts? Don’t Bet On It.

The nation’s largest health care industries — including the doctors, hospitals, insurers and drug makers — made headlines earlier this week when, after a pow-wow at the White House, President Obama claimed that those industries had volunteered to trim $2 trillion in projected health care costs over the next decade to help prevent a looming spending crisis.

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The New York Times’ Robert Pear reports today that the industries — not to mention Obama’s health care czar — are claiming that the president “misspoke,” and no such commitment was ever made.

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.”

The Washington office of the American Hospital Association sent a bulletin to its state and local affiliates to “clarify several points” about the White House meeting. In the bulletin, Richard J. Pollack, the executive vice president of the hospital association, said: “The A.H.A. did not commit to support the ‘Obama health plan’ or budget. No such reform plan exists at this time.”

This should come as no surprise. Many of the players in the medical industrial complex are public, for-profit entities that have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits for the sake of their shareholders. Not only are they not supposed to care that health care costs are rising at a rate making services more and more inaccessible to ordinary folks, they’re not allowed to care.

No one knows this more than Nancy-Ann DeParle, the former head of Medicare who has cashed in on her public service this decade, pulling in more than $2 million from membership on several industry boards in the past two years alone.

Something else to keep in mind: Health care costs are expected to rise by 6.2 percent each year for the next decade — well above the growth of the rest of the economy. By stating that they don’t want to commit to trim that growth closer to rates of rising incomes and inflation, these industries are saying that the unsustainable costs of health care are just fine with them.

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