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

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The "Insurance Companies Support Health Care Reform" Gambit

Angela Braly, the CEO of Wellpoint, called for health care reform at a meeting in Indianapolis.

One of them most powerful women in the nation is calling for health care reform. Wellpoint CEO Angela Braly says she supports guaranteed coverage for everyone - as long as everyone gets and stays covered [...]

"The high and rising cost of health care in America is just not sustainable," Braly said. She said the current system, including Medicare, which is administered by the federal government, was inefficient and promotes quantity over quality. She also said it posed "a real threat to the social and fiscal obligations of the government and to the health and prosperity of the American people."

"We believe insurance companies have a role to play. We can and are making a difference," Braly said. She said Wellpoint's strategy was moving beyond processing claims and managing risk, noting employee incentives when customers get healthy.

Braly says the what worries her most about the plan currently under consideration is the "public option."

This is, essentially, the insurance company-approved argument for health care reform. They see it as forcing everyone to buy their coverage, making refusal to buy their insurance a crime, and offering no competition to their monopoly over it. I'm sure they don't want to see that anti-trust exemption of theirs lifted either, the one that has led to 94% of the individual insurance market becoming "highly concentrated" in the hands of one or two companies.

Braly kept talking about how the current system is inefficient and leads to skyrocketing costs, as if she has no agency over that whatsoever. There are issues with how the fee-for-service system promotes quantity of medical care and not quantity, but that's due to the profit incentive, which is exactly the same in the insurance market. Braly's argument seems to be that it's doctors and hospitals at fault for chasing profit in health care, but insurance industry CEOs like her are good samaritans and innocent bystanders who just so happen to do the same thing. If a profit-driven health care system is wrong, then it's pretty much wrong across the board. And she actually advocated for an outcome where insurers would be "free to offer a range of choices," while worrying about a public option... which would just be another choice, one that could deliver quality coverage at a lower cost.

Braly tried to argue that health insurance profits aren't all that big:

According to Braly, the difference between the Medicaid or Medicare payouts and actual costs are shifted to the private plans, costing you $1,500 a year. Add that to the $1,000 a year shifted to the private plans to cover the uninsured and it costs you a total $2,500 a year.

"Sounds a lot like the Fannie Mae for health care and I think we all know how that experiment is going," Braly said [...]

"If you completely eliminated insurance company industry profits which is clearly the aim of some, you would pay for two days of health care in America and in the process you would eliminate the market mechanism to control costs and improve quality of health care being delivered," Braly argued.

I don't know what any of this means. The market mechanism in health care has not controlled costs in America whatsoever, yet throughout the industrialized world we see public programs that control costs and provide better health outcomes. Private industry has begged off completely from limiting health care costs through any means other than denying coverage to their customers and rationing. Health care spending in Medicare and Medicaid is lower than spending through the insurance market. And insurers have used the employer market effectively to confuse employers and employees alike about the true cost of their service. Braly throws out "Fannie Mae" for health care, but the current system is clearly "Goldman Sachs" for health care - where the relentless drive for profit at the expense of people creates a spending bubble that nobody ever bothers to burst until it's too late.

In the end, Braly calls Wellpoint a "supporter" of health care reform. That's funny, I would think that a company committed to health care reform wouldn't illegally force their employees to lobby against it.

Consumer Watchdog in Santa Monica has asked California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to investigate its claim that UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint Inc. pushed workers to write their elected officials, attend town hall meetings and enlist family and friends to ensure an overhaul that matches their interests [...]

WellPoint, whose Anthem Blue Cross unit is the largest for-profit insurer in California and employs 8,000, took a more overtly negative tack.

"Regrettably, the congressional legislation, as currently passed by four of the five key committees in Congress, does not meet our definition of responsible and sustainable reform," Anthem said in a company e-mail last week. The proposals would hurt the company by "causing tens of millions of Americans to lose their private coverage and end up in a government-run plan."

The appeals amount to illegal coercion under California law, Consumer Watchdog research director Judy Dugan said. "While coercive communications with employees may be legal, if abhorrent, in most states, California's labor code appears to directly prohibit them," said Dugan, citing sections forbidding employers from "tending to control or direct" or "coercing or influencing" employees' political activities or affiliations.

Insurance companies like WellPoint support health care reform, all right - completely on their terms, and guaranteed to provide them a financial windfall. Anything else would be unacceptable, and they will take any tactic - no matter legal or illegal - to stop it.

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