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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Another day, another deal. The White House has reached an agreement with another key health care industry group. Today, it was the nation's hospitals who agreed to pony up some $150 billion over the next 10 years. The money would help cover the costs of an overhauled health care system. Today's deal follows one reached last month, with the drug industry volunteering to take a pay cut. NPR's Julie Rovner reports on what these deals might mean to consumers and to the prospects for getting a health bill passed.
JULIE ROVNER: With President Obama in Europe, Vice President Biden got to give the ritual pep talk, surrounded by smiling hospital CEOs who just volunteered to give up billions - with a b - of government funding over the next decade.
Vice President JOE BIDEN: Today's announcement, I believe, represents an essential - the - represents the essential role hospitals play in making reform a reality. And a reality it will be. We must enact this reform this year.
ROVNER: But how much are the hospitals really giving up? If things work out as expected, maybe not that much. For example, says Richard Kirsch of the consumer group Health Care for America Now, hospitals currently get billions of dollars to care for patients who can't pay because they don't have health insurance. But under a new system, he says?
Mr. RICHARD KIRSCH (Health Care for America Now): There will be fewer uninsured. And it makes perfect sense as the number of uninsured drop, that hospitals should get less money from the federal government for taking care of those people if they now are paying customers.
ROVNER: In other cases, it appears that industry groups may be playing some negotiators in the health care overhaul debate against others. Take the drug industry. Last month, the industry group PhRMA announced a deal with the White House and Senate Democrats to put up some $80 billion towards the cost of the overhaul effort, largely by cutting costs for seniors and Medicare.
PhRMA President and CEO Billy Tauzin, a former member of Congress, said he was happy to, as he calls it, structure his industry's pain.
Mr. BILLY TAUZIN (President and CEO, PhRMA): It's a good model. If you can sit down with those who are writing legislation regarding your industry and get the results that you want, but in way that is more palatable, that you can live with, you still succeed around, then that makes sense.
ROVNER: And in the case of the drug industry deal, says Kirsch, the funds pledged will actually benefit consumers directly.
Mr. KIRSCH: They're actually going to be lowering drug prices and passing on some of those savings to senior citizens so that seniors will have lower drug prices on Medicare.
ROVNER: But there's a dark side to the deal, too. Consumers could be saving even more money if House Democrats have their way. But Tauzin admits he's now using the deal he cut with the Senate to fight off efforts in the House to force drug makers to provide even deeper discounts.
Mr. TAUZIN: We've come in very high, and, you know, that should be the limit. We shouldn't have to be asked to double up, if you will, anywhere.
ROVNER: That's outraged some Democrats, who think the industry groups are getting off too easy, particularly because many health care providers stand to make more money than they're giving up in these deals if more people have insurance coverage. But consumer advocate Kirsch said this is a process where no one gets everything they want. And it's better to have potential opponents inside the tent rather than outside, spending millions on negative advertising.
Mr. KIRSCH: In an ideal world, which didn't have 600 and umpteen drug company lobbyists, and all the lobbying and political clout of these interest groups, consumers could get a better deal. But in the real world of American politics, to have interest groups come to the table and make an agreement that will lead to much more accessible, affordable health care for consumers really is an accomplishment.
ROVNER: But none of these deals means anything unless there's a bill passed and signed into law. And given the current pace of Congressional negotiations, that's one deal that's by no means done.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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