PhRMA CEO Urges GOP To Work With Obama On Health Care, But Won't Compromise Himself

A key industry official in the health care debate praised the Obama administration on Tuesday for taking an "us"-oriented approach when it came to revamping the system, avoiding the pitfalls of exclusiveness that plagued prior efforts.

But while PhRMA President and CEO Billy Tauzin continually underscored the importance of a health care reform process based on collaboration and compromise during a conference call with online reporters he refused to cede much ground on organizational objectives.

Tauzin used the term "deal breaker" and "hotspot" to describe any aspect of health care reform that would make the system drastically more government-run. In particular, he said that the pharmaceutical industry would oppose any efforts at creating a public plan for insurance, saying it would effectively wipe away the private market.

"Governments set prices," he said. "That's what governments do. And when they set prices they can drive out any competitor who can't compete with government-set prices."

At one point he said he did not "know if there is a model outside of this country that we admire greatly." Later he praised the current system in this country as one that "works pretty well."

"America's hybrid system, where we have some public programs for those who obviously have to depend upon public programs and nevertheless a robust private system working alongside of it, that works pretty well," he said. "We are not complaining about that model. In fact we think there are holes in the public system that we can fill. We don't like that gap in Part D. We could help fill it. We believe that there are people at the bottom who could be eligible for some of the public programs that we ought to embrace. But mandating everybody to have insurance without helping people who can't afford it will never work."

The pharmaceutical industry played important and ultimately destructive roles during Hillary Clinton's health care reform efforts in the 1990s, spending millions to demonize the proposal. Cognizant of this political powder keg, the Obama administration has brought Tauzin and other industry players to the table, including invitations to the recently completed White House health care summit. And while Tauzi, at times,n struck a reluctant-to-compromise pose during the Tuesday call, he urged Republicans in Congress to work with the president.

"You asked me what is different about 1990?" he told one caller. "Let me paint a picture for you in 1993. The administration wrote the bill, brought it down in the House chamber and brought it to Mr. Gingrich and said: 'What about it? Can you support it? And he said, 'no.' And they said, 'well, do you have a plan?' and he said, 'yep... my plan is to beat your plan and then to beat you.' And he did. That is essentially what happened in the 90s. This year is quite different. The president very clearly laid out an invitation to Republicans in the House and the Senate to come to the table and make their suggestions and contributions and told us to have a plan instead of just them... If Republicans are smart, in my opinion they will take the invitation."