KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

This Time Around, Debate Much Different

Insurance companies, "the industry that gets credit for helping to kill the Clinton administration's health care overhaul 15 years ago," are now "striking a conciliatory tone as it faces the most serious attempt to overhaul the system since that effort collapsed," CQ Politics reports. With low favorability ratings and Democrats in control of the federal government, "insurers know they aren't in a good bargaining position" this time around. They have already offered concessions, including providing "insurance in the individual markets to everyone, without regard to who is sick," and not "charging people who are ill higher rates and cut health care costs." But they've also been ''careful to structure their offers in such a way that appears significant but does not overpromise." An individual mandate for all Americans and an end to health screening for applicants could offer "a win-win outcome, one that will benefit not just patients but potentially the profits of the industry as well." But "perhaps the biggest motivation for insurers to deal now is that they fear what might happen if they don't" – the "creation of a government-run plan that would be more attractive to the public and siphon off customers" (Adams, 6/1).

In a separate article, CQ Politics reports that the "widely accepted narrative" of a "unified industry unilaterally" killing the Clinton initiative with opposition and the infamous Harry and Louise ads, and then reversing itself "years later to emerge as a savior," leaves out "some of the twists in the debate." Industry groups "came out swinging" against the Clinton plan, but "insurers were never unified in their efforts." In addition to their effective efforts, "divisions among Democrats" were also "a key reason the overhaul failed." Chip Kahn, a "top lobbyist at HIAA during the Clinton administration," told CQ that in 1993-1994, the group would have been "willing to accept" some of the same ideas now being considered, had they "been coupled with an employer mandate" (Adams, 6/1). 

Determined not to be overshadowed this time, public plan proponents are initiating their own $82 million dollar lobbying effort, "billing it as their largest health reform campaign ever," Politico reports. The campaign, backed by "11 progressive groups," is "designed to put public plan opponents on notice that supporters are ready for a fight." It includes funding for "organizing grass-roots supporters and paid advertising, phone banks and direct mail." The coalition also "plans to bring at least 5,000 people to Washington on June 25 to make more than 300 lobbying visits." The coalition includes: Health Care for America Now, the Children's Defense Fund,, Americans United for Change, USAction, Campaign for Community Change, Rock the Vote, Campaign for America's Future, the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union, according to Politico (Frates, 6/1).

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