At the top of the briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced that the president was endorsing he revocation of the antitrust exemption currently enjoyed by the health insurance industry.
TAPPER: Can you talk a little bit more about this statement of administration policy regarding the antitrust exemption? Why specifically now? How long has the president been planning on coming out in favor of this?
GIBBS: Well, the –
TAPPER: He's been hinting about it for quite some time.
GIBBS: Well, the House is considering, in their legislative vehicle — this legislation goes to the Rules Committee today and it's my understanding, goes to the floor either tomorrow or the day after that. We typically weigh in at this part — point in the process with a statement of administration policy — it's been evaluated by a number of departments throughout government — and believe that this is –removing this exemption will allow appropriate enforcement and examination of potential policies that might prove uncompetitive, might stifle competition. And we think this better promotes affordability and innovation through greater choice and less market concentration.
TAPPER: I think it was either a few weeks ago or a few months ago the president said, I think in one of the weekly addresses, that it was time for Congress to consider repealing the antitrust exemption. Do you have evidence that there's any, as you put it, bid rigging or price fixing? Is that why you became more solidly in favor of this?
GIBBS: Well, we do know this, Jake, that the AMA studied the market concentration of health insurers and found that 94 percent of the U.S. health insurance markets were highly concentrated, meaning you know, one or only a few health insurers offering policies in, as I said, almost all the markets in the country. This allows DOJ and the — and FTC the ability to look into, in complement with state insurance regulations, to ensure competitiveness.
TAPPER: Okay. And for — about Thursday's summit, it doesn't really seem like it's shaping up, right now, to seem all that bipartisan on Thursday. You have Republicans saying it's going to be a “Democratic infomercial.” The fact that the president posted his plan on whitehouse.gov is indicative of a lack of sincerity on his part, they say.
GIBBS: Well –
TAPPER: And then for your guys' part, the bill that you've posted is not just a bill the president supports, it's also a vehicle to get this through Congress without any Republican support.
GIBBS: Again, Jake, the bill is a starting point for what Congress had spent many months considering. The — what we get out of Thursday will be, as I said yesterday, based on the willingness of those participating to come in with an open mind and discuss the ideas and the plans that they have. Was it disappointing that Senate Republicans appear to have decided not to post their plan on the Internet for discussion, or for the Republicans to come with a more consensus plan? Sure that's disappointing. I hope that doesn't wipe away their willingness to actively discuss the ideas that they have to cut costs for those that are drowning, small businesses and families, government budgets, and those that are being discriminated against by the practices of insurance companies.
TAPPER: But doesn't the fact that you've posted it in the form you've posted it, which is not just a list of principles or a statement of legislation –
GIBBS: No –
TAPPER: — but I mean, look, I mean, we all know that –
GIBBS: In fairness — in fairness — in fairness — in fairness –
TAPPER: — for reconciliation if it comes — if it comes to that.
GIBBS: Jake, in fairness, I can assume if we would have simply posted principles, they would have said why isn't there more information. Look, semantics aside, the president looks forward to discussing actively for several hours — with members of his administration, Democrats and Republicans — their ideas for health- care reform. I think again — I can't stress enough, I think the product, the output of six hours of discussion will be based on every participant's willingness to come and have an honest and frank discussion. I don't think it does any good if somebody says, we’re not going there to offer our ideas. We're just going there to help people understand how bad the other guy's ideas are. That's not what the American people are looking for. They're looking for Democrats and Republicans who are willing to sit around a table and work together, to provide solutions to problems like health care, the rising costs of health care. That's what the president sees as his hope for what happens on Thursday.
TAPPER: One last thing, I'm sorry. Congressman Joe Sestak last week said that the White House offered him a high-ranking job in the administration to not run against Arlen Specter. Do you guys have any comment on that?
GIBBS: I was traveling for a couple of days, as you know. I have seen some stuff that he said. But I have not looked into this, Jake.