Health reform meetings need closer look, House panel says

Rep. Michael Burgess, MD, wants information about pledges from health industry to the Obama administration to reduce spending growth by $2 trillion over a decade.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Feb. 9, 2010

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Jan. 27 approved a bipartisan resolution asking the White House to provide more details about a series of meetings last summer with health industry stakeholders. The talks produced pledges from participants to reduce the growth in health spending by up to $2 trillion over a decade.

The meetings were attended by representatives of six organizations: the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Hospital Assn., America's Health Insurance Plans, the Service Employees International Union and the Advanced Medical Technology Assn. PhRMA agreed in June 2009 to discount drugs for seniors by roughly $80 billion over a decade. The AHA joined two other national hospital organizations in July 2009 to promise a $155 billion reduction in hospital spending growth over a decade.

The committee's resolution, a modified version of one originally drafted by Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R, Texas), asks the White House for:

  • A list of all agreements and an explanation of each one.
  • Names of people, including administration officials, who attended the meetings that led to the agreements.
  • Times and dates of each meeting.

"I want to know what the White House negotiated with whom and on what terms. I want to know how these deals influenced the legislative process," Dr. Burgess said. He wrote a Sept. 30, 2009, letter requesting similar information.

The Obama administration responded to the earlier letter on Jan. 26 with 81 pages of previously published White House visitor logs, news releases, Web pages and other information. Dr. Burgess said the response also seemed to indicate no documents, e-mails, notes or call records exist regarding the stakeholder meetings, which he said was unlikely.

"Two trillion dollars and we didn't write down a single word? It was all done on a handshake?" he asked.

AMA President J. James Rohack, MD, said the White House discussions about slowing the growth of health spending were well publicized. "A letter outlining those efforts was sent to the president, a news release was issued, and both the letter and news release are still available on our AMA Web site," he said (link).

Dr. Burgess said the White House arrangements appeared to take certain legislative provisions off the table as Congress drafted health reform legislation. For example, following the PhRMA deal, the Senate rejected a bipartisan amendment to its version of health reform that would have allowed prescription drug importation.

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