A pharma stakeholder emailed The RPM Report following the highly anticipated and widespread reporting of a health care reform meeting at the White House, featuring representatives from pharma, insurers, physician and hospital organizations, and medical device manufacturers.
“Is the press really going to let Obama get away with this event? I just don’t see any specifics here and, therefore, no reason to take this seriously. What am I missing?”
The quick answer is: messaging. In short, the meeting was much more about communication than it was about policy.
It’s true, the brief remarks by Obama at the White House offered very few details. Here are the select highlights paraphrased and quoted directly from the President’s speech:
►Americans “must be free” to choose their doctors and insurance.
►Americans can keep insurance they have.
►“I’m committed to building a transparent process and all views are welcome.”
►“This is a historic day, a watershed event.”
►“What’s brought us all together today is the recognition that we can’t keep traveling the same dangerous road.
►“We’re spending more on health care than any other nation on Earth.”
►“What is a growing crisis for the American people is also an untenable burden for American businesses.”
►“When it comes to health care spending, we’re on an unsustainable course.”
Most would agree that the answers to the nation’s health care concerns aren’t layered in Obama's remarks. However, there was one very clear specific offered by the President: a coalition of critical health care providers have vowed to cut costs by 1.5% each year for 10 years resulting in $2 trillion of overall savings for that period.
Those are big, specific numbers that are easily digestible by reporters, broadcasters, and most importantly, voters.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has said controlling costs is the number one priority for health care reform above all else. To read our previous coverage, click here.
Indeed, most headlines and cable TV news shows immediately after the speech zeroed in on the $2 trillion savings—not the lack of specifics on how to get there. That’s a big victory for the White House in such a hotly contested issue.
The second strategy, which has become apparent in the two White House meetings on health care reform, is Obama will not paint himself into a corner when it comes to what health care reform is. He highlighted choice of doctor, choice of insurance/keeping your current plan and lowering costs as part of his principles. That’s pretty vanilla and no one on Capitol Hill is talking about opposing any of those. That gives Obama flexibility as the legislative options become clearer in June.
A third apparent strategy is for Obama to speak infrequently on health care reform—at least for now—in order for his words to carry greater weight and for carefully rolled-out events to make bigger headlines. One of the criticisms of President Clinton in 1993-1994 is that he spoke too frequently about health care reform towards the end leading to messaging missteps and causing the public to eventually tune out the message itself.
For example, much was made in the mainstream media of who met with the President privately and who stood behind him during his remarks. Here’s a list of attendees furnished by the White House:
George Halvorson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
Jay Gellert, President and CEO of Health Net Inc.
Thomas Priselac, President & CEO, Cedars-Sinai Health System
Rich Umbdenstock, President & CEO,
Ken Raske, President,Greater
J. James Rohack, MD, President-Elect, American Medical Association (AMA)
Rebecca Patchin, MD, Chair-Elect of the AMA
Rich Deem, Senior Vice President of the AMA
Medical Device Companies
Michael Mussallem, Chairman & CEO, Edwards Lifesciences
Steve Ubl, President & CEO, AdvaMed
David Nexon, Senior Executive Vice President, AdvaMed
Richard Clark, Chairman, President & CEO, Merck
Billy Tauzin, President & CEO, PhRMA
Rick Smith, Senior Vice President, PhRMA
Andy Stern, SEIU
Dennis Rivera, SEIU Health
Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the Office of Health Reform
Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council
Kathleen Sebelius, HHS Secretary
Halvorson, Rohack, Clark, Mussallem, Rivera, and Priselac joined Obama during his speech. No representatives from biotech or the Biotechnology Industry Organization were invited to the meeting. Broadcasters focused on the fact that many of the people involved in the meeting were the same ones opposed to health care reform in 1993-1994. The inference: the chances for reforming the system are much better now than they were then.When we asked the pharma stakeholder what the headlines should have read instead of the $2 trillion savings pledge, the response was less positive than the mainstream media coverage: “Obama Cheers as Industry Leaders Offer Big Promises but No Details.”