Obama: 'There's No Quick Fix, There's No Silver Bullet'

Obama meets with businesses to discuss ways to cut health care costs.

ByABC News
May 12, 2009, 7:56 AM

May 12, 2009— -- President Obama met with business leaders at the White House today to discuss ways to reduce health care costs for businesses on this second day of health care discussions.

The president pointed to companies like Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson -- two of the five companies represented at the roundtable -- as examples of firms that have seen their bottom lines improve by putting in place efficient health care measures.

He added that these companies will be "informing the health care reform discussions that take place here in Washington" and can serve as a model for other companies and even the federal government.

"There's no quick fix, there's no silver bullet," Obama said in brief remarks following the roundtable. "When you hear what Safeway or Johnson & Johnson or any of these other companies have done, what you've seen is sustained experimentation over many years, and a shift in incentive structures, so that employees see concrete benefits as a consequence of them stopping smoking or losing weight or getting exercise. The provider incentives are aligned with the employee incentives as well, and changing the culture of a company."

The Obama administration, which has made health care a top priority, is touting its partnership with health care industry heavyweights and expressing confidence that a bill will pass this year. But some critics expressed skepticism about voluntary cost cuts.

At Monday's meeting at the White House -- which the president called a "historic" and "a watershed event in the long and elusive quest for health care reform" -- health care industry leaders pledged to trim health care costs by 1.5 percent annually over the next decade.

The savings would add up to $2 trillion by 2019, the White House said, and could save the average family of four $2,500 a year in the next five years.

But with little specifics so far on how cost cuts would actually be implemented by the industry, critics said the plan may meet the same fate as the failed health care plan President Jimmy Carter tried to put in place in 1977.

"The story today is one of largely wishful thinking about cost control," said Ted Marmor, a professor of public policy and management at the Yale University School of Management. "No one should believe either that the industry representatives can, even if they wished, control the behavior of their groups."

On how the plan would be enforced, Obama's newly minted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the president has made it clear he wants to see action quickly. The president has said before that he wants to see an officially specified a time frame.

"I think that the industry leaders promised to come back to the president with specifics. What kinds of steps are going to be taken, how quickly. He made it clear yesterday that first of all, he's very committed to passing health reform this year," Sebelius said on "Good Morning America." "There is no other option but getting a bill passed this year, and secondly, he expects the industry leaders to begin work on cutting costs well before a bill is passed. So he wants us all to go to work together."

Obama told health care players at the meeting Monday, "You've made a commitment. We expect you to keep it," per White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Sebelius said there would be a transparent system so that the administration could monitor whether the industry is really keeping its end of the bargain, but she did not provide details on how that would be monitored.

Later today, Sebelius will hold a news conference with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and others to discuss a new report on Social Security and Medicare.