“The status quo is the one option that is not on the table,” President Obama told the leaders.
The president gathered some 120 people representing varying facets of the industry — from doctors to patients to health insurers to the drug industry — along with lawmakers to discuss ways to reform the U.S. health system.
“Each of us must accept that none of us will get everything we want, and no proposal for reform will be perfect,” Mr. Obama said. “While everyone has a right to take part in this discussion, no one has the right to take it over.”
The summit comes on the heels of Mr. Obama’s move this week to nominate Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the health and human services agency.
While the U.S. spends approximately $2.5 trillion annually on health care, an estimated 48 million people remain uninsured.
“The problems we face today are a direct consequence of actions that we failed to take yesterday,” the president said. “Since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform nearly a century ago, we have talked and we have tinkered. We have tried and fallen short, we’ve stalled for time, and again we have failed to act because of Washington politics or industry lobbying.”
Mr. Obama made a promise during the 2008 presidential race that he would expand health insurance coverage and curtail rising costs, which businesses claim make their products less competitive on the international market.
Health care reform has proven a difficult challenge for President Obama’s predecessors and Mr. Obama is likely trying to avoid the issues that foiled President Bill Clinton’s health care initiatives in the 1990s.
“This is a different day,” Chip Kahn, a hospital lobbyist who opposed President Clinton’s plan and was set to attend Thursday’s meeting, told the AP. “I think among most of the stakeholders, everyone wants to see this work. There is a tremendous feeling that it’s time.”
The new president is seeking to use his popularity and the public’s high level of frustration with medical costs to generate momentum for universal coverage.
In the 1990’s,then first lady Hillary Clinton led the effort around health care reform and the White House wrote the measure with little input from lawmakers or interest groups. Players on all sides of the issue complained they were left out of the process.
But President Obama has made it a point to consult openly during his reform efforts.
While Mr. Obama has not yet submitted a plan to Congress, Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is expected to play a leading role in writing future health care legislation.
Baucus told reporters at a briefing earlier this week that “it’s an ambitious goal, but I’d like to have us ready for the floor by June or July before the August recess. I’d say June.”
“Everything has to be on the table, everything,” Baucus said, adding that he would “just keep talking, keep working with people” in the hopes of drawing more than 51 votes in favor of any bill.
Baucus has also praised President Obama’s decision to set aside $634 billion for health care reform in his 2010 budget as a sign of the president’s “very strong commitment.”
While the event at the White House Thursday is expected to be cordial and bipartisan, lines between the two parties are already being drawn. The AP reported that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky released a letter to the president saying that any reforms should not lead to a government-run system.
Other Republicans were also wary of too much government intervention in health care.
“If the government is one of the competitors, eventually there are no competitors left,” Reuters reported Representative Roy Blunt, the leader of the Republican health care efforts, as saying this week.
The White House plans to hold a series of health care events around the country, including in rural areas, to solicit ideas and drum up support for the president’s vision.