05/12/2009 11:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Corporate Healthcare Girds for War

A picture really can be worth 1,000 words, or a great deal more. If you don't believe me, click through this link to the New York Times article and pay close attention. You'll see President Obama speaking earnestly about his meeting with healthcare leaders about their pledge to reduce the growth of healthcare spending by $2 trillion over the next ten years. That sounds fantastic; so why aren't they smiling? Not only are they failing to show to do their part to save the economy, they are positively shooting daggers with their eyes. Seriously, I'm shocked that the Secret Service would let them stand behind the president given the malevolence of their expressions.

Of course, they have good reason to look miserable. If you assume that private health care yields a 15% pre-tax profit that means that these people have just volunteered to forgo $300 billion in profit. That's a lot of money, so maybe we should be breaking out the Freedom and Nobel prizes for these gentlemen. But recipients of such rewards usually smile. These guys aren't smiling.

Here's why. First, that $2 trillion represents less than 8% of the $33 trillion that the Health & Human Services Department is projecting that the country will spend over the next ten years. In the past year, many people took bigger pay cuts than that just to try to keep their jobs. Second, this offer consists entirely of "good intentions," and missing the objective carries no penalties. It is therefore little more than fairy dust. Third, the President and Nancy-Ann Min DeParle - Director of the Whitehouse Office of Health Reform - have already decided to bet their legacies in driving systemic change. If you benefit from the status quo, that's bad.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that theses are bad people; they cannot be happy that they live in a country where 45 million Americans (15% of the population) have no health insurance and 50% of all personal bankruptcies are the direct result of unaffordable care. I also think that the government is perfectly capable of getting it wrong. As we have all heard, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the desire to build consensus can sometimes produce new and different messes. Nevertheless, the status quo, leads to economic oblivion so something must be done. If that means that the grey-haired men in the dark suits find themselves frowning for quite some time, so be it.