Donald Lambro

Nancy-Ann DeParle, White House Office of Health Reform director, "said 'the president misspoke' Monday (May 11) and again on Wednesday (May 13) when he described the industry's commitment in similar terms," The New York Times reported on Friday, May 15. But then DeParle "called back about an hour later on Thursday (May 14) and said: 'I don't think the president misspoke. His remarks correctly and accurately described the industry's commitment,'" the Times reported.

Days later, after testy discussions that went back and forth between the White House and the six healthcare groups, the organizations issued a statement, saying, "We are committed to working together to bend the healthcare cost curve." But no details were offered as to how the cost savings would be achieved.

"This thing looks like it was thrown together as a photo-op event. They made claims for $2 trillion worth of savings over 10 years that had no credible basis in econometric analysis," said Robert E. Moffit, director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Health Policy.

"When the photo op took place, they spoke in terms of generalities, like standardization of forms, use of health-information technology and administrative simplification. Unless you have some kind of detailed explanation of how the initiatives would be implemented, there is no way you could arrive at such a figure," Moffit told me.

Then on Monday, the health-industry officials took another stab at the elusive cost-savings figure that Obama sought from them, but apparently they still fell way short of the White House's goal by several hundred billion dollars.

The groups identified several general areas for savings -- from vague administrative efficiencies and standardizing claim forms -- which they said could total $1 trillion to $1.7 trillion in a decade. But they did not say how much the savings would accrue to the government instead of the healthcare system at large. Also missing: any annual percentage.

Each group offered its own proposals but did not say how much they would save because they didn't know.

"Clearly, this cost-control plan was not well thought through and reflects the administration's difficulty in finding a way to pay the $1.5 trillion price tag on its health-reform plan," said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a healthcare-reform group.

Obama hoped to bankroll his plan with his cap-and-trade energy taxes and placing limits on mortgage interest and charitable deductions, but both of those proposals are dead. A value-added tax, a national-sales-tax idea, is going nowhere, either.

Between the failure to find specific, measurable savings and attainable tax revenues, prospects for Obama's healthcare plan are looking kind of shaky right now.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.