I recently came across a transcript of National Economic Council director Al Hubbard’s remarks to a hospital trade group back in March. In it, Hubbard discusses Bush administration policy regarding price transparency in health care. That policy was later fleshed out in an executive order, which mandated that federal health programs furnish beneficiaries with information on prices, etc. The administration stopped short of imposing a similar mandate on the private sector.
But Hubbard’s comments to the hospitals let us know where the president is headed. And it was Hubbard’s…shall we say…rhetorical agility that I find priceless:
The president’s approach has been…that through persuasion we can get the [health care] providers of this country to start providing accurate, easy-to-use information and we don’t have to go to legislation, because, you know, legislation is a very crude tool to accomplish things and we would much rather let the free market, and you all individually, com[e] up with the best way of approaching transparency as opposed to Congress and the federal government telling you how to do it. But the president has also made it clear that if the provider community is not receptive to providing transparency that we will turn to Congress and ask them to support transparency.
When is persuasion not persuasion? When it’s a threat. Later, in an answer to a question, Hubbard dispensed with the subtleties:
And by the way – and I hate to use this blunt club as a threat – if you don’t, it’s going to be imposed upon you. It is going to be imposed upon you.
In other words, Pres. Bush thinks that the market should do whatever it wants, so long as it’s exactly what he wants.
Which is exactly the same as not being for a free market at all.