Obama's Contempt for the Free Market

The president snubbed a golden opportunity for the private sector to reform health care in America.

While President Obama and the then-Democrat controlled Congress strutted with pride on the enactment of the nation’s budget-busting health-care overhaul, the CEO of a major private corporation offered to “improve the quality and reduce the cost of health-care by $900 billion” for free. But Obama turned it down.

Sam Palmisano, chairman and CEO of IBM, revealed this historic incident in a little-known interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray, editor of the paper’s on-line program. But, strangely, the jarring rebuff by Obama seemingly was brushed aside by the Journal.

No stranger to health care, IBM announced April 11 that it was marking its 100 years in business by celebrating its “contributions to fighting infectious diseases and contributions to world health.” Over the years, IBM has created hardware and applications specifically designed to improve care, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and advance how medical knowledge is shared.

A blog, Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential, on Feb. 23 said IBM’s CEO had offered the administration a free software program that “would have cut Medicare and Medicaid fraud by almost a trillion dollars.” The transcript of the interview, which I obtained, isn’t clear, however, how Palmisano was offering to solve the health crisis.

If the administration had accepted IBM’s offer, it could have saved the taxpayer at least $700 billion piled on the budget deficit over 10 years, not to mention the frustrations and confusion caused by the ever-building bureaucracy of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called ObamaCare. Enacted March 23, 2010, the law’s costs were detailed in a Washington Post story in January.

The revealing transcript of the Sept. 14, 2010 program, which IBM gave me, “speaks for itself,” an IBM spokesman said. He declined to explain or elaborate further. Palmisano said he had been at the White House talking about ways to improve the functioning of government, but “we haven’t made much progress. I mean, we’ve done tons of work, and for whatever sets of reasons, we haven’t been able to establish being in synch with the priorities. I’ll give you one example. We could have improved the quality and reduced the cost of the healthcare system by $900 billion....It was self funding. You could have insured anybody you wanted to, illegal aliens, dogs, cats, ponies, whatever you want....It did not require any big legislative change to do that.

Murray: So, why wouldn’t they do it? That’s money on the table.

Palmisano: You’d have to ask them....I said we’d do it for free to prove that it works.

Murray: Why?

Palmisano: You’d have to ask them.

Murray: But so, that gets to kind of a fundamental question.

Palmisano: Free. Free wasn’t good enough.

Murray: But “why” is the right question, right? I mean...

Palmisano: I think what it is, I mean, not to be judgmental about these things: I really do think what it is is that we weren’t aligned with the priorities of the Administration.... So, the priority at the time, if I stay on my example of health care, was not to reduce costs and improve quality. It was to provide insurance and coverage for more people....All we said, if you did this you could fund the priority without increasing the deficit, taking taxes up. And we couldn’t sell the case.

It was brutally obvious that Barack Obama was determined to drive recklessly ahead with his political dream of a government-run health program for Americans no matter what the cost and no matter how many billions of dollars he could have saved through the generosity and innovations of a private-sector corporation. So, he deliberately stuck the current and future taxpayers with the cost and inefficacies of government health.

IBM announced last July its plans to enlist leading scientists and technologists in the company to help medical practitioners and insurance companies provide high-quality, evidenced-based care to patients. In this initiative IBM planned to collaborate with clinicians in medical institutions and hiring doctors to work with its researchers to develop new technologies, scientific advancements, and business processes for health care and insurance providers.

“Dedicating $100 million,” the corporation said in a press release, “the initiative will draw on IBM’s leadership...to drive innovations that empower practitioners to focus their efforts on patient care.”

IBM has been solving health-care problems for many decades. Working with the World Health Organization in 1976, IBM mapped outbreaks of smallpox. This contributed to the eventual eradication of the disease in the general population a few years later.

In the early 1990s, IBM, working with the University of Washington, built a prototype of the first medical imaging system. In 2004, IBM’s World Community Grid began to apply supercomputer levels of processing power to health-care needs, such as fighting AIDs, cancer, dengue fever, and malaria. Currently, the company is working on new technology that it says will read and sequence human DNA quickly and efficiently and has the potential to sharply cut costs.

Today, IBM also is focusing on “health-care transformation” that it says is helping countries develop new patient-centered models of care, linking health information with penetrating analysis of medical data. The company calls electronic health records “the basic building blocks of health-care efficiency. It claims proficiency in this field. Its goal is to achieve “better patient safety and save lives.”

How sad for America that the Obama Administration snubbed a grand medical “free lunch” and instead threw the load of national health costs on taxpayers’ backs just to assuage his ego.