As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Insurers Turn Out Their Own

The Los Angeles Times has the latest about the insurance industry's efforts to game health care reform legislation, which seem to be working. Most of the substantive benefits come from the legislation being written in the Senate Finance Committee, which can be overcome simply by bypassing that committee. More troubling are their public efforts to demonize the public option, for which insurers have marshaled the manpower of their own employee base.

One of the Democratic proposals that most concerns insurers is the creation of a "public option" insurance plan. The industry launched a campaign on Capitol Hill against it, grounded in a study published by the Lewin Group, a health policy consulting firm that is owned by UnitedHealth Group. The lobbyists contended that a government-run plan, which would have favorable tax and regulatory treatment, would undermine private insurers [...]

Leading insurers, including UnitedHealth, urged their employees around the country to speak out. Company "advocacy hot line" operations and sample letters and statements were made available to an army of insurance industry employees in nearly every congressional district.

Some insurers supplemented the effort with local advertising, often designed to put pressure on specific members of Congress. Late in the spring, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina -- the home state of several conservative Blue Dog Democrats -- prepared ads attacking the public option.

United Health Group in particular has been active in using its employees to rally support against a public option. Even when they denied that they invited employees to attend right-wing tea party protests, they acknowledged that their talking points read as follows:

Our company is very concerned that a government-run health plan would be a road block to meaningful health care reform. It would significantly increase costs for individuals and families, would add billions of dollars in new liabilities to the federal budget, would break down the current health care system upon which more than 160 million Americans rely, and would violate the President's commitment that those who like their current coverage can keep it.

That anyone would listen to a health insurance behemoth with a vested interest in maintaining the viability of their business is odd enough in itself. But in addition, these talking points are incorrect. The CBO has scored a strong public option in isolation and found that it would save $150 billion dollars over ten years, and that's just to the federal budget. The real savings would come to individuals who would be able to choose a plan without large administrative costs and without a significant portion of their premiums going to company jets and balloon payments of compensation and stock options to CEOs. If insurers are so adept at providing quality health coverage, and the federal government so bumbling that their option would add billions to the federal budget, then they should have nothing to fear from such a plan. The fact that UnitedHealth and their cohorts in the insurance industry have mobilized 50,000 employees (and I wonder if they have a choice in their mobilization) to contact lawmakers and kill the public option shows that they fear it - and would rather create a forced market for their services that individuals would actually have to buy at risk of violating the law.

Insurers may be confident that they will reap a "bonanza" from the legislation, but they haven't counted on regular people mobilizing on their own. Supporters of the public option have raised nearly $400,000 to back the 60-plus members of the House who will not vote for a bill with anything less. And the White House is determining how to pass that with a simple majority in the Senate.

Insurance companies have an army of lobbyists and are turning out their own employees to try and claim a monopoly over your health. But this fight is not over.

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