THE BLOG
08/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Private-Sector Partnerships Bode Well for Health Reform

Yesterday's announcement that America's hospitals will contribute $155 billion to the health care reform effort is yet another sign that meaningful health care reform is within our grasp.

The money will come from cuts in government programs, making the hospital industry, after the pharmaceutical sector, the second private health care stakeholder to voluntarily reduce its revenues for the cause of health care reform.

This deal comes on the heels of Wal-Mart's recent endorsement of an employer mandate -- a policy that could be a key component of the final health care package.

With Congress eager to pass a health care bill by the end of the month, this emerging private-sector coalition might be exactly what's necessary to get the job done.

For one, bringing industry leaders into the legislative process diffuses one of the biggest threats to comprehensive health care reform. President Clinton's 1993 push for new health policy died at the feet of a business community that was largely opposed to it.

President Obama preempted this problem by inviting a group of industry and labor representatives to the White House in May to ask for their support on this issue. Although the drug and hospital industries are so far the only participants in that gathering to act on their pledge of support, the meeting made it far less likely that the reform bill will be scorned by business leaders.

Collaborating with industry will also help garner popular support for the legislation. According to a recent Gallup poll, on the issue of health care reform, Americans trust hospitals more than President Obama and congressional leaders of either party. That same poll showed that pharmaceutical companies are also considered more trustworthy on the issue than Congressional Republicans.

In other words, bringing the health care industry into the process will add valuable private-sector bona fides to any resulting reform package.

But forging such a broad alliance brings with it more than just political benefits. It often results in sounder policy. And on the issue of health care reform, that's precisely what's required.

For years, debate over this issue in particular has stagnated, as members of both parties have refused to budge from their party-line positions. The upshot has been steadily rising health care costs, as well as a swelling in the number of uninsured Americans. Not to mention an increase in the incidence of mostly preventable conditions like diabetes and obesity.

Now that we have a diverse group of Republicans, Democrats, and business leaders involved in the policy process, lawmakers are in a position to craft health care reform that's geared toward results, and not philosophy.

As negotiations continue over the next few weeks, it will be important to focus on practical, incremental reforms that address the problems of our health care system, without splintering this delicate coalition. This will be no easy task, but earning the support of three major private-sector health care stakeholders is certainly a promising early sign.

Douglas E. Schoen was a campaign consultant for more than 30 years and is the author of "Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System."