You Don't Think They'll Just Give Up, Do You?
(I'm a blogger fellow for Brave New Films and their Sick For Profit campaign)
After today's announcement from Harry Reid, adding a public option to the Senate health care bill, some might think that a great victory has been achieved. And it's a significant accomplishment to this point. But we're at the beginning of the end, not the end. And now that this public option, with a state opt-out, represents the lower bound of health care reform, you can bet that the insurance industry will redouble their efforts to kill the bill and retain the status quo. In fact, they've already started. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina has begun to lobby their customers to work against the bill, asking them to contact Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). Not a front group, or some ad hoc organization funded by BC/BS. No, just the company itself.
(The mailer) reads:
No matter what you call it, if the federal government intervenes in the private health insurance market, it's a slippery slope to a single payer system.
Who wants that?
The enclosed postcard to Hagan reads:
Please oppose government-run health insurance. We can meet our health care challenges without the government unfairly competing with the private sector. Tell Senate leaders that North Carolina doesn't need government-run insurance.
They've also deployed lobbyists and shills to Capitol Hill to make completely dubious arguments. At a hearing about the insurance industry's anti-trust exemption, this amazing exchange occurred:
University of Arkansas business professor Lawrence Powell, who testified on behalf of the medical malpractice insurance industry.
"The best possible outcome from repealing McCarran is continuation of the status quo," he said. "However, it is also likely that repealing McCarran would have negative consequences for consumers, by decreasing competition and accuracy in insurance pricing."
Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out that the professor was relying on outdated information.
"You cite for the proposition that insurance markets are highly competitive an article by Paul Joskow. Do I have the date of that article correct, it's 1973?" he asked Powell. "I believe so," came the answer.
And, they've started to push their message out to media, getting an AP reporter to buy the canard that poor, henpecked insurance companies just don't make a lot of money.
WASHINGTON – Quick quiz: What do these enterprises have in common? Farm and construction machinery, Tupperware, the railroads, Hershey sweets, Yum food brands and Yahoo? Answer: They're all more profitable than the health insurance industry.
The missing ingredient here is scale. Tupperware is more profitable than health insurance on a percentage basis, but 1/6 of the US economy doesn't go through Tupperware. In real dollars, the insurance industry makes a mint. And remember, "profit" doesn't count salaries, not even what's given to CEOs.
The truth is that, even with this public option, insurers will do just fine in the health care bill. They get millions of new customers, with competition that is limited (not everyone can get the public plan, under even the most expansive version). But it's just not good enough for them. The notion that they might have to offer coverage with actual benefits, and not cherry-pick the healthy to pay their premiums, which would cut into those profits, is just distasteful to them. So they will fight. And we will be ready.