In its ongoing campaign to pass health reform, the White House this week highlighted a new report from the Business Roundtable (BRT) on healthcare costs.
The BRT, which is an organization for CEOs, concluded that on the issue of healthcare, “the status quo is not sustainable.” It found that the policies in the health reform bills pending in Congress could control the cost growth of employment-based insurance plans. Without health reform, the BRT report argued, the cost of employment-based insurance premiums could grow by almost $3,100 per employee over the next 10 years.
In her assessment of the report, the Obama administration’s top economic advisor Christina Romer noted that such a rapid growth in insurance costs would translate into lower wages for workers and harder times for businesses of all sizes. On the other hand, with reform in place, reduced costs in the employment-based markets would improve the competitiveness of businesses and would hopefully result in better wages for workers, she added.
“We would expect workers to have more money in their paycheck as a result of slowing these healthcare costs,” Romer told reporters.
The BRT report also highlighted payment reforms in Medicare and other major changes included in the legislation as key to meaningful reform. Notably, while it expressed some reservations about the public insurance program, the report stated, “They are also not a justification to halt health care reform.”
On the public option, Romer reemphasized the administration’s belief that the public insurance program would aid in controlling costs as well as ensuring expanding affordable access to the uninsured.
Troubling aspects of the BRT report included praise for a proposed Medicare Advisory Board, which would move the process of reforming Medicare outside of the legislative arena. Proposed changes to the program, including privatization schemes or benefits cuts, could be fast-tracked without requiring real debate in Congress, critics of such a plan say.
In addition, the BRT report called for medical liability reform that could reduce the penalties from lawsuits and legal settlements against doctors for malpractice. Romer reminded reporters that President Obama, as he stated in his speech on health reform to a joint session of Congress earlier this year, is open to talking about medical liability reform. “He’s always said it’s a balancing act,” she emphasized. “He cares deeply about patients and making sure their rights are protected, but wants to make sure doctors can focus on patients and not just on being defensive.”
In a statement released as he prepared for his current trip to Asia, President Obama said, “The potential benefit for America’s businesses is just another reason why we can’t afford delay or political games as this process moves forward. I look forward to working with our business communities and their partners in Congress to pass reform by the end of the year.”
With its positive perspective on health reform, the BRT report signals a major departure by many in the business community from hard-line opposition to health reform led by conservative business lobbies such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufactures. Both of the latter organizations have expressed outright hostility to the health reform bills pending in Congress.