August To Be Crucial for Health Reform Success, AHIP’s Ignagni Says
America's Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Karen Ignagni on Monday said that lawmakers should use the August recess to emphasize the need for health reform, rather than to criticize the health insurance industry, the AP/Boston Globe reports. Ignagni said she believes that "health care reform is going to be won or lost in August."
According to Ignagni, "If August is about villainization," and lawmakers fail to discuss possible health system changes with their constituents, then "that will mean members of Congress will come back to Washington without a strong sense that health care reform is doable. And that would be a lost opportunity."
The industry opposes the creation of a public insurance plan option, which Democrats are considering as a way to extend coverage to uninsured residents and cut costs through increased competition with private insurers.
Ignagni said a public plan option would force insurers and health care providers into bankruptcy and result in a single-payer insurance system.
President Obama and other Democrats have said they do not intend to establish such a system. However, Ignagni said the public plan "is a very short step to a single payer, and that's what this whole discussion is about" (Fram, AP/Boston Globe, 8/10).
Insurers Cast as Villains of Health Reform
According to Reuters, insurance companies "have become the bull's-eye for reform advocates looking for a target for ballooning U.S. health care costs."
Paul Heldman, an analyst with Potomac Research Group, said, "Every great legislative debate needs a villain and it was only a matter of time before the debate grew so intense that insurers were highlighted as the enemy."
Obama has begun calling overhaul efforts "health insurance reform," rather than health care reform, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently called insurers "almost immoral" and "villains" (Heavey, Reuters, 8/10).
Recess Talking Points Focus on Insurers
The Wall Street Journal reports that while "Republicans are conjuring nightmares of government bureaucrats blocking patients from lifesaving treatment, ... Democrats paint pictures of heartless insurance executives dropping or denying coverage" (Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, 8/10).
Before Senate Democrats adjourned for the August recess last week, they were given a packet of talking points that focused on criticizing insurers, according to CongressDaily.
The material -- titled "Responsible Reform for the Middle Class" -- says, "Insurance companies put profits over people. They retroactively remove your coverage after you become sick, consider c-sections a pre-existing condition and use a lack of transparency to fleece consumers to make record profits."
The material also defends the public plan option and health care cooperatives, which the Senate Finance Committee has been considering as an alternative to a public plan.
In addition, the packet instructs senators to highlight proposals that allow residents to keep their existing coverage, assure constituents that the national deficit will not increase and counter claims that the proposals would provide insurance coverage for undocumented immigrants (Friedman, CongressDaily, 8/10).
Former State Insurance Commissioners Comment on Attacks on Insurers
Meanwhile, four members of Congress who previously served as state insurance commissioners are urging their congressional colleagues to reduce their attacks on private insurers and take a slower approach in pushing for the creation of a public plan option, CQ Today reports. The four members -- Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) -- also urged their colleagues to remain committed to the development of a bipartisan reform bill.
Sen. Ben Nelson said, "I'm trying to be an amicus to the process and to bring the two sides together," while Collins said, "I don't think that it advances the health care debate when people on either side try to create demons" (Ota, CQ Today, 8/10).
BusinessWeek Examines Insurers' Role in Reform
In related news, BusinessWeek in a recent cover story examined how the insurance industry "has already accomplished its main goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking altogether, any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business" (Terhune/Epstein, BusinessWeek, 8/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.