Health Insurance Industry’s Eleventh Hour Threat…Misfires

Posted in General by TBartine on October 13, 2009 No Comments yet

As the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the Health Care Reform Bill comes up for a vote today (as I’m writing this, it passed), we should have expected that there might be some “Eleventh Hour Drama.”  It should also be a surprise to NO ONE that the sources of this drama…are the Republicans and the Health Insurance Industry.

Let’s take a quick look at the recent activities within each camp:

Democrats: Working under the assumption that the bill will survive the committee, Democrats are already heavily engaged in internal negotiations.  It is important to remember that the so-called “Baucus Bill” will have to be merged/reconciled with the Health Care Reform bills coming out of the other Senate and House committees.  While most of these bills carry a large number of common elements, Democrats are working to resolve within their own ranks the support for things such as the “public option,” and whether the bill will be “paid for” with income-based taxes (preferred in the House) or taxes on the so-called “cadillac policies” (favored in the Senate).

Republicans: The GOP is having internal disputes as well…but of a very different nature.  The current leadership has drawn a hard line in pushing a “kill the bill, and defeat Obama” policy.  This policy was dealt its first blow, as Republican strategists pointed out that “Yay, We Killed Health Care Reform” is not a slogan they’ll want to use in the 2010 and 2012 elections…defeating Obama might look good on paper, but if it means publicly destroying the reform of a dismal health care system, then it will likely cost them more votes than it gains.  Then, another shock to the system: respected, GOP, elder statesmen started coming forward in support of Health Care Reform…some of them experts on Health Care.  These figures included former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, former Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (a surgeon),  former administrator of Medicare and Medicaid Mark McClellan.  These men would soon be joined by some very high profile members of the current leadership, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the latter of which is considered a health care policy expert.

While these announcements of support of Health Care Reform may have swayed some critical, moderate members of the GOP…their party leadership was unfazed, and they promptly let it be known that there would be consequences for GOP members who supported reform.  Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who holds a key vote on the Senate Finance Committee, would likely not be given the chairmanship of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, a post for which she is next in line. Snowe’s answer?  She’s voting for the bill: “Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it.  Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls, and I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.

Health Insurance Industry: Up until yesterday, the industry was thought to be “on board” with the Baucus Bill.  Why WOULDN’T they be?  It has everything they could hope for:  No public option….check.  Everyone forced to buy their policies…check.  Fines for people who refuse to buy their policies…check.  Huge government subsidies so they’ll cover poorer people…check.  Few reforms forcing them to offer better policies and service…check.  No significant price controls…check.  So why, on the eve of the vote, would the industry’s top lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), suddenly declare war on the bill?  Two reasons…

1 - While it requires people to buy their lousy and overpriced policies, and fines people if they don’t…the industry doesn’t THINK THE FINES ARE HIGH ENOUGH.  So…they worry that they’ll only get 20 million new customers, not all 40 million uninsured.

2 - The new requirement that they have to cover sick people and people with pre-existing conditions…will just plain eat into their profits too much.

So, AHIP and it’s president Karen Ignagni, have released a study, a day before the vote, that constitutes a simple THREAT:  “If you pass this bill…we’ll just have to raise everybody’s premiums by 111%.“  Then, just for good measure…they started running ads trying to scare seniors that their Medicare Benefits would be cut.

The reaction of the White House and Congress…NOT WHAT AHIP EXPECTED.  The White House pointed out that the timing of the report is clearly political in nature (thank you, Captain Obvious)…members of Congress, including members of the Senate Finance Committee, condemned the report as “untrue, disingenuous“…health care experts and critics point out that the assumptions of the study are quite extreme, and that the company responsible for the study, PricewaterhouseCoopers, is the same company that produced a study on behalf of “Big Tobacco” years ago, and that study showed that taxes on cigarettes would lead to economic armageddon.

But the best reaction came from some rather astute legislators like Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY):  This outlandish study…shows EXACTLY WHY we need the public option.  This study, ironically produced by the Health Insurance lobby, serves to illustrate clearly:

- The only thing to keep the insurance companies from passing on increased taxes on their business straight onto the premiums of their policyholders…is the public option.

-  The only thing to keep the insurance companies from passing on the cost of covering sick people and people with pre-existing conditions onto their other customers…is the public option.

-  The only thing to keep the insurance companies from punitively punishing the American citizenry for supporting health reform…is the public option.

In short, we know that these companies will not allow ANYTHING to cut into their enormous profit margins…not taxes, not sick people, not expectations of quality…not unless they are PRESSURED through competition in the marketplace to do so.  As Representative Weiner points out, the only way to subject these companies to the pressures of competition, would be through the implementation of a low cost, government-run alternative.

Otherwise…for the industry it will just be business as usual.  And we are all very familiar with what that looks like.

Parting note: Interesting article on “Five Things You Don’t Know About The Senate Health Care Bill.“  Check it out.