01/17/2007 10:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

No Consensus Without the Supply Side

A kind relative gave me the Far Side desk calendar as a present this holiday season. This morning's cartoon shows a number of people crowded into an elevator along with a lion. We see the lion's rear through the door, which is about to close on the lion's tail. His owner is petting him softly. Caption: "Don't be alarmed, folks -- he's completely harmless unless something startles him."

Perfect cartoon for the headline in this morning's Washington Post announcing "a new consensus on universal health care." The column by Steven Pearlstein reported on the press conference held yesterday by the heads of the Business Roundtable, the AARP and the Service Employees International Union, the nation's largest union of health care workers. "Now is the time" for universal health care, says Andy Stern, president of SEIU.

According to the Wall Street Journal report on the press conference, this new coalition didn't lay out a specific plan. I'm sure the insurance industry-led coalition that includes advocates for low-income families like Families USA will be more specific when they lay out their plan either later this week or next week.

However, Pearlstein did offer his own vision of what a Business Roundtable/AARP/SEIU plan might look like, and it looks a lot like the Schwarzenegger plan in California. Given the prominent top-of-the-fold coverage given the column, I think I know where the inside-the-Beltway consensus is going. "All of the major interest groups would have to make important concessions," Pearlstein wrote.

But he, like Schwarzenegger, seem either unaware or politically naive about the hidden controls and levers that special interests wield over the health care system. Just one example: Pearlstein says doctors would have to agree to have their compensation tied to how well they conform to treatment protocols established by medical specialties. But he doesn't address who wrote those protocols, and how many of them reflect not the best health care but the financial interests of companies or physicians providing products or services for that condition.

It was a classic newspaper picture, the perfect photo op: business, labor and seniors together. All of them want universal health care. Think of them as the nice people in the elevator. Then, picture the lion and think of the insurance industry, the drug, device and durable equipment suppliers, the hospitals, and organized medicine.