Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 19:41 UK

Obama welcomes healthcare pledge

US President Barack Obama at the White House, Washington DC (05/03/2009)
Mr Obama hopes to get a reform package agreed this year

President Barack Obama has welcomed a "historic" commitment from US industry groups to help push forward healthcare reform by cutting costs.

Groups representing hospitals, doctors, drug companies and insurance firms said they intended to cut spending by $2 trillion (£1.3tn) over 10 years.

Mr Obama has made healthcare reform one of his top priorities for 2009.

His planned reforms include medical insurance for the 46 million Americans currently without it.

Confirming the deal with the health industry, Mr Obama told Americans that he "will not rest until the dream of health care reform is achieved in the United States of America".

'Significant step'

The six industry groups delivered a letter to the president outlining their voluntary agreement to cut spending increases by 1.5% a year until 2019.

Savings would be achieved, they said, by improving coordination, focusing on efficiency, developing better technology and accepting regulatory reform.

No specific commitments were spelled out in the letter, however.

The BBC's North America Editor Justin Webb says although today's announcement contains little in the way of specifics, it does suggest that the big industry players think some form of healthcare reform will pass this year, and they want to be in on the discussions.

The White House believes the industry groups' proposals could eventually save families as much as $2,500 a year.

"I don't think there can be a more significant step to help struggling families and the federal budget," a senior administration official was quoted by the Washington Post as saying on Sunday.

Signatories to the deal include America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Service Employees International Union and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

They were among the harshest critics of a similar health reform plan set out by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

But there is a sense among some industry groups that now may be the best time to act before public opinion, fuelled by anger over costs, turns against them, the Associated Press reports.

Obama administration officials predict the move will significantly boost momentum for the president's plans to get a reform package agreed this year.

The US currently spends $2.2 trillion a year on medical care, which amounts to 16% of the overall economy.

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