This was my third time seeing Citizen Bill Clinton speak publicly. The first was at the American Red Cross Centennial Ball in October, 2005, a few months after the disaster that was/is Hurricane Katrina; the second was on-site in New Orleans, along with Bush Sr., in May of 2006.(1) Over the past four years, and much to his credit, Clinton has honed a consistent message, one he is assured to deliver, regardless of his audience’s predilections.
AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) is a collective voice for almost 1,300 health insurance companies, a lobbying group that holds an annual convention and trade show designed to address the pressing issues of and the new technologies/businesses in the health insurance market. AHIP states that one of their major policy goals is to expand access to high quality, affordable coverage to all Americans, yet it is clear that the AHIP collective was one of the many losers in the recent policy debate regarding PPACA (re: our new healthcare reform law), with their only major policy win being, in my view, the elimination (delay) of the “public option” from the enacted law.
It’s a nice position in life to get paid handsomely to address former foes. No doubt many members of the AHIP collective had much to do with President Clinton’s own form of healthcare reform failing in the first half of his first term (1992-94). Putting its primary content aside for just a moment, Clinton’s speech was peppered with two wheedling, audience-specific themes: the first, an invocation of thanks to the AHIP collective for supporting healthcare reform, or the rhetorical equivalent of praising someone for handing over their wallet while being held at gunpoint; and the second, a win-one-for-the-Gipper pep talk praising AHIP’s members as the chosen few who know that improved healthcare quality and lower healthcare costs can coexist, a sentiment that I know from first hand experience many of the AHIP collective struggle to affirm.(2)(3) By injecting these two themes into what was essentially a speech outlining Clinton’s view of the world’s humanitarian challenges, the ex-president succeeded, brilliantly I believe, in conveying the following message, like it or not: we are committed to making things more equal in the world (the US included); healthcare reform is one step in that direction; and, as part of the process, we are offering you a second chance to re-build your industry around the needs inherent to this objective. There was no gloating, just a warm embrace and a subtle nod or two – folks please get with the program and get it together – all this for the standard public appearance fee of the popular ex-President, which sources state range in the area of $150,000.
It’s also a nice position in life to do what you want to do and talk about what you want to talk about. In terms of air time, Clinton’s cajoling served as mere tasting notes to a speech primarily concerned with his current world view and its alignment with the work of his William J. Clinton Foundation (a nongovernmental organization with over 1,100 staff and volunteers in over 40 countries). A few notable points from his speech, titled Embracing Our Common Humanity, include:
- The belief that the past decade of crises and changes in the US economic system, up and to the recent (current) recession, has alienated white non-college educated males in the US, who as a group are struggling for hope and optimism and are one of the primary sufferers of the massive unemployment trend.
- That there is an underlying fear that America, a historical underdog turned post-WWII perennial favorite, may not be winning anymore, as developing countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China challenge our economic supremacy and terrorism challenges the capabilities of our military.
- That the world is an incredibly interesting place where we continue to advance beyond our imaginations, noting in the years since his first taking office as President: the evolution of cell phones from a 5 lb device to today’s smart-phones accessing a pervasive Internet; and the advancement in genetic engineering to our current realization of synthetic organisms (to list just a few).
- That despite the world’s being an incredibly interesting place, we still have trouble dealing with three major problems: (a) instability; (b) inequality and (c) climate change (and here I note that these three challenges line-up with many of the Clinton Foundation’s programs including his work to rebuild (or build) Haiti and to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the latter of which he believes is a cause to the current climate change).
With respect to healthcare reform specifically, Clinton acknowledged that the law is a vague beginning that is reliant on a second phase of specific programs. These programs will have to address the real issues of cost and quality that he knows AHIP’s members understand, but that are not clearly understood by the public at large. According to Clinton, making the new healthcare law work requires innovation, an American specialty that will bridge the gap between “what the government can provide and what the private sector can [currently] produce.”
(1) For a transcript of Clinton’s May 2006 speech in New Orleans, click here, and for a transcript of George H.W. Bush’s speech at that same event, click here. Both are short, sweet and excellent, with Bush Sr. winning over the day despite Clinton’s rock star status with the Tulane student body.
(2) The belief that quality healthcare can be delivered at a lower cost is one that many people, not just insurance executives and underwriters, struggle with, especially consumers (patients). Generally, many patients find evidence-based medicine terms like “quality guidelines” and “quality standards” confusing and continue to believe that more and newer care is best. Patients are also reluctant to believe that their doctor could provide anything but sound medical advice.
(3) The vast majority of the new businesses exhibiting at AHIP have as their very purpose improved quality and lower cost. Our insurers’ skepticism resides in a history of failed attempts at accomplishing this objective on a broad scale. As I have noted many times in this blog, this objective can be met within subsets of the healthcare economy today. Broader deployment is the challenge and necessity presented by PPACA, a law that will financially bankrupt the US without massive improvements to the cost-quality relationship in healthcare.