Healthcare Lobby Turns on Obama, Mounts Attack

Days after a landmark deal at the White House, healthcare industry leaders said Obama got the story wrong
May 21, 2009 -- In the two weeks since a landmark announcement that healthcare industry leaders would trim their own growth by 1.5 percent per year, industry lobby groups behind the scenes were mounting million-dollar advertising campaigns against key planks in the Obama plan, reports the Washington Post.

Hospitals and insurers came out just a few days after the White House photo op last week to say Obama had the story wrong. He overstated their agreement. They had not pledged steady cuts -- $2 trillion over 10 years, according to the New York Times:

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.” Read more >>
 
A week after the White House announcement, the Washington Post reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina was planning ads in direct opposition to a public health plan option.
 
As part of what it calls an "informational website," the company has hired an outside PR company to make a series of videos sounding the alarm about a government-sponsored health insurance option, known as the public plan.
 
Obama has consistently maintained that a government-run plan, absent high-paid executives and the need for profits, could be a more affordable option for Americans who have trouble purchasing private insurance. The industry argues that creating a public insurance program will undermine the marketplace and eventually lead to a single-payer style system.
 
In three 30-second videos, the insurer paints a picture of a future system in which patients wait months for appointments and can't choose their own doctors, according to storyboards of the videos obtained by the Washington Post. Read more >>
 
The ads resemble “Harry and Louise” type ads that helped defeat Hillary Clinton’s plan in the mid-90s. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recalled what Obama said about such attacks during the campaign:
 
Back during the Democratic primary campaign, Mr. Obama argued that the Clintons had failed in their 1993 attempt to reform health care because they had been insufficiently inclusive. He promised instead to gather all the stakeholders, including the insurance companies, around a “big table.” And that May 11 event was, of course, intended precisely to show this big-table strategy in action.
 
But what if interest groups showed up at the big table, then blocked reform? Back then, Mr. Obama assured voters that he would get tough: “If those insurance companies and drug companies start trying to run ads with Harry and Louise, I’ll run my own ads as president. I’ll get on television and say ‘Harry and Louise are lying.’ ”

The question now is whether he really meant it. Read more >>