Insurance Industry May Benefit From Reform, Employees Attend Town Halls To Counter Criticism
"Lashed by liberals and threatened with more government regulation, the insurance industry nevertheless rallied its lobbying and grass-roots resources so successfully in the early stages of the healthcare overhaul deliberations that it is poised to reap a financial windfall," The Los Angeles Times reports. "The half-dozen leading overhaul proposals circulating in Congress would require all citizens to have health insurance, which would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers -- many of whom would get government subsidies to help pay the companies' premiums."
Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the Urban Institute, says insurers "are going to have this very stable pool, they're going to have people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage...." Insurers have mobilized in opposition to the public option, lobbying on Capitol Hill, encouraging employees to speak out and launching local ad campaigns. "Recent support for the public option has declined, and the stock prices of health insurance firms have been rising."
Insurers have also had success in keeping benefits low in congressional proposals. "In May, the Senate Finance Committee discussed requiring that insurers reimburse at least 76% of policyholders' medical costs under their most affordable plans. Now the committee is considering setting that rate as low as 65%.... Most group health plans cover 80% to 90% or more of a policyholder's medical bills, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service" (Hamburger and Geiger, 8/24).
The Wall Street Journal reports that "the health-insurance industry is sending thousands of its employees to town-hall meetings and other forums during Congress's August recess to try to counter a tide of criticism directed at the insurers and remain a player -- and not an outsider -- in the debate over the future of the health-care system." Those employees are "armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers," but have gone mostly under the radar so far.
Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, says the town halls are a chance "to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits. It's very important that our men and women... calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day." An AHIP memo warns employees to expect harsh criticisms but not to yell at lawmakers. "'It is important not to take the bait,' it cautions" (Fuhrmans and Johnson, 8/24).