Well, it’s an eyebrow-raiser if nothing else:
President Barack Obama has praised health industry groups for coming forward with an offer to reduce the growth of spending by $2 trillion a year to overhaul the system.
Obama appeared at the White House with an array of industry figures, including union representatives, and called it the occasion “historic.”
Industry figures pledged that they would voluntarily slow their rate increases over the next 10 years.
Obama said the step the industry took Monday must be carried out as part of “a broader effort” to change the health care system, keep costs under control and provide health insurance for the some 46 million Americans who do not now have it.
In an acute analysis of this event, Jonathan Cohn of TNR’s The Treatment blog suggests that it may represent a sea change in health industry strategy for coping with pressure for health care reform:
[T]he industry groups aren’t promising to control costs as an alternative to reform. They’re promising to control costs as part of reform. In fact, some of the efficiency steps they are proposing wouldn’t even be possible without the sorts of changes now under discussion in Washington, because they require changes in legislation.
That’s important, because it creates an opening wedge against what happened in 1994: a combined health industry/Republican campaign to attack universal health care as worse than the status quo. As a hand-wringing Wall Street Journal op-ed column last week by Kimberly Strassel conceded, a status quo-oriented attack on Obama’s health reform proposals probably won’t work in any event:
[T]he days of Republicans winning these battles solely by spooking Americans are over. Phil Gramm, Harry and Louise might have scored with that approach in the 1990s, but the intervening years have brought spiraling costs and public unrest. Americans want a fix. Democrats promise one.
As Cohn warns, the cooperative spirit of the health industry could simply be a ploy to cut a deal that eliminates a “public option” for universal health coverage. But it matters nonetheless, but undercutting any Republican argument that reform is unnecessary, or that the core Obama plan represents “socialized medicine.” It may also indicate a “market signal” that the health care industry hears the whistle of a train leaving the station, and considers reform inevitable this time around.