Published January 13, 2015
By Tevi TroyVisiting Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute/Former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services
President Obama has been very outspoken regarding his preference for a major health reform package this year, particularly in last week's address to a Joint Session of Congress, what I call the "non-State of the Union." Unfortunately, he has been somewhat vague on the specifics thus far, and so Thursday's Health Summit has provided an opportunity to peel back the curtain to some small degree and learn something about the White House approach to this issue. Here are the top 5 things we learned from yesterday's summit:
1. President Obama is Serious
We got an inkling of this last week, when the president had a heavy emphasis on health in his non-SOTU, but we really saw it yesterday. This was a tremendous investment of White House time and effort. Of course, effort is important, but it does not always translate into success. Bill Clinton sure threw a lot into his health care plan, and the White House launch was followed by the regional visits is somewhat reminiscent of President Bush's Social Security tour in 2005. --We all know how both of those turned out.
2. Congress Will Likely Lead the Way
There were an awful lot of members of Congress there, which is a little unusual since members prefer to attend events where they get to speak more than they listen. And the stimulus package showed that the administration will let Congress take the lead on key legislative priorities. President Obama was quite open about this in his remarks, saying, "I just want to make sure I don't get in the way," and adding that he had "strong ideas, but I don't have a monopoly of good ideas." -- Watch Congress closely in the months ahead.
3. President Obama is Trying to Split the Opposition
The White House wants to make sure that the same coalitions that fought a Democratic health overhaul in the past will not reassemble in the same form. In fact, the president even said that "anyone who wants to say no to everything won't prevail this time around." You can see this from the list of who was invited, and who was not. Billy Tauzin, CEO of Pharma, was there, but the heads of BIO, the biomedical manufacturers' association, and ADVAMED, the device manufacturers' group, were not there. Among the insurers, Scott Serota, CEO of Blue Cross, basically begged forgiveness for the infamous "Harry and Louis" ad of days gone by, asking the crowd to treat the past as the past.
4. HHS Secretary-Designate Sebelius Was Not There
President Obama has assembled a team of heavy-hitter health experts at the White House, including Nancy-Ann DeParle for the health reform czar job Tom Daschle would have had in addition to his HHS duties. Sebelius' absence could signal that she will not be a major player in shaping the health package, and instead will focus on the massive and important job of managing HHS, letting the White House mavens work with Congress on the details.
5. There Are No Magic Bullets
The break out sessions themselves were mostly unsurprising. For example, many of the experts agreed we need to promote prevention efforts. Really? The familiar quality of the discussion could indicate that the administration is not going to pull any rabbits out of a hat. The reform effort, while bold, remains vague enough on the details that President Obama could say that Newt Gingrich and Ted Kennedy agree on the need for electronic health records, which they do. Of course, how we get there is what causes the disagreement, and yesterday's summit still has not provided the answer to that question.
Tevi Troy is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, and a writer and consultant on health care and domestic policy. He has previously served as the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, and as a senior White House policy advisor.