December 19, 2008 12:18PM

Who Says Health Care Reform Is Likely?

After so many PG-13 stories about health care reform and a new administration that everybody's really hoping makes it happen, the press is starting to write rated-R stories about the actual chances for comprehensive reform. Today, I was quoted in a couple of the R-rated stories.

Investor's Business Daily reports on two Congressional Budget Office reports released yesterday.  Both were launched and largely completed under the tenure of then-CBO director Peter Orszag, who has since been tapped to direct President-elect Barack Obama's Office of Management and Budget.

Before becoming Barack Obama's budget chief, Peter Orszag gave his future boss an indirect warning Thursday that health care reform will be neither cheap nor easy.

"(The first report) shows that many of the things that Obama and Congressional Democrats think will save costs, such as preventive care and information technology, won't really save much money," said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "It also shows that covering the uninsured will cost a lot of money."

Better preventive care and health IT would save Medicare $850 million and $22 billion, respectively, over 10 years. Over that time, Medicare is expected to cost $6.7 trillion....

"If you read between the lines, he's saying that health care reform will be a blood bath, not quick and easy," said Cannon.

The USA Today reports:

[F]or significant change to occur, health care must stay a priority for his administration and for Congress. Special interest groups whose conflicts helped derail change in 1994 must come together.

There are signs that may happen. A coalition of conservative business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), has teamed with a major labor union, the Service Employees International Union, and a left-leaning advocacy group, Families USA, to push for action in the first 100 days. Key groups, including hospitals, doctors and consumer advocates, are meeting with congressional staffers for leaders such as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a longtime champion of overhauling health care.

The health insurance industry — whose "Harry and Louise" ads helped turn public opinion against the last attempted overhaul — says it wants change....

"In the 26 years I've been involved with health care, I've never seen such interest and cooperation in trying to get to yes" on change, says Ron Pollack, head of Families USA, which supports expanding government programs to cover all Americans....

Others aren't sure that will be enough. Health policy consultant Robert Laszewski, a former insurance industry executive, [says,] "There is no consensus in Congress or the country on what a comprehensive health care bill would look like.... Plus we don't have the money."


"They all want to be at the table because they don't want to be on the menu," Cannon says of the interest groups.  "Sooner or later, someone is going to be on the menu. You can't do comprehensive reform without goring someone's ox."