Insurers’ Chief Lobbyist Pushes Back Against Democrats’ Criticism
In a Tuesday conference call with reporters, America's Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Karen Ignagni decried the recent emphasis by Democrats that insurers are standing in the way of health reform and pledged to "correct the record" on her group's stance, The Hill reports (Young, The Hill, 8/4).
Since the beginning of August, President Obama has begun referring to the proposed overhaul as "health insurance reform" rather than "health care reform," and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week said that insurers are "immoral," adding, "They are the villains in this."
On Tuesday, Ignagni said that the country "should be in the midst of a transformative national conversation on health care reform. Instead, a campaign has been launched to demonize health plans and the men and women who work hard every day in their communities to provide health insurance coverage to more than 200 million Americans" (Wayne, CQ Today, 8/4).
She added, "For a country that is trying to accomplish what it has failed to do for a century -- pass health care reform -- the same old Washington politics of 'find an enemy and go to war' is a major step backward, not a step forward."
Public Plan Debate 'Crowding Out' Consensus on Reform, Ignagni Says
Earlier this year, insurers pledged to stop charging variable premiums, or denying or limiting coverage based on health status, as long as lawmakers imposed a nationwide coverage mandate.
Democrats and some Republicans have expressed support for an individual coverage mandate.
Ignagni said that "we're 80% there, with the kind of consensus this time around in 2009 that never existed in '93, '94," but "unfortunately I think the sole focus on the government-run question has obscured this consensus" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 8/4). She said, "The almost singular focus on the issue of whether we should have a government program or not, and the fact that that has become a litmus test for reform, is crowding out the very significant consensus that exists" (Hunt, CongressDaily, 8/4).
According to Ignagni, a government-run plan would bankrupt hospitals, bring about the financial collapse of the health insurance industry and break the promise made by reform advocates that people could keep their current insurance (Hilzenrath, Washington Post, 8/4).
Ignagni also emphasized AHIP's opposition to allowing the government to set payment rates for a new public plan. She said that if "the intent is to place the nation on a path to a single-payer system, as some have recently acknowledged, then that question should be debated candidly and openly."
Insurers Also Oppose Health Insurance Cooperatives
Ignagni also criticized the idea of creating local not-for-profit health insurance cooperatives, suggested by some as a compromise between supporters and opponents of a public plan.
According to Ignagni, since co-ops already exist in some areas, "one wonders what would be the purpose of a co-op competing in markets where there are health plans that are co-op models or competing with not-for-profit plans." She added, "[W]hat matters is how the rule works," because if "the program would revert to administered pricing we'd be right back (to) the problems that have been identified not only by our community, (but) by leading hospitals, by major medical societies across the country, employers and a number of consumers" (CQ HealthBeat, 8/4).
AHIP Will Participate, Not Supplicate
Ignagni said that while insurers have been "good-faith participants" in reform negotiations, "that didn't mean that we would sit at any table in silence when confronted with proposals we knew to be flawed" (CongressDaily, 8/4). She added, "We're going to keep our eyes very focused on the fact that people outside the Beltway need to be informed that this is a community that not only supports reform but has advocated for reforms that are being discussed certainly within the Beltway and hopefully in August outside the Beltway."Ignagni also said that AHIP has no plans to change its current ad campaign supporting "bipartisan reforms that Congress can build on" (CQ HealthBeat, 8/4). 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.