There was at least one instance of cold feet on the way to the altar, but at long last it looks as if the American Association of Health Plans and the Health Insurance Association of America are finally ready to tie the knot.

Three years ago, these two heavyweights in the health coverage lobbying arena came close to merging, but called it off. According to spokespersons for both organizations, the failure to merge the first time around did not kill (we hate to say it) the urge to merge.

And no wonder. This is one merger that makes tremendous sense. Rather than continuing to duplicate efforts to get across essentially the same message, the new association will be able to speak for the industry with a more powerful, more unified voice.

The union of HIAA with its 300 members and AAHP, with its 1,000 health plans, will create an organization that represents the gamut of health coverages to about 270 million Americans. Covering that much of the population would alone give the new group tremendous clout.

But on a more substantive level, as a spokesperson for AAHP told National Underwriter, both organizations are very close in terms of public policy. Both are committed to supporting the role of the private sector in health care and finding private sector answers to the issues of cost, quality, access and choice.

Karen Ignagni, currently president of AAHP, will become president of the new organization when the groups respective memberships ratify the decision of their boards to unite.

Ignagni has been a forceful and articulate spokesperson for the interests of the health insurance business, and her talents will be well put to use as the industry continues to face enormous pressure both in the market and in the halls of legislatures from Washington, D.C., to the various state capitals.

Of course, one of the less attractive features of mergers such as this is the usual thinning of staff that takes place. Already, it has been announced that HIAA President Don Young, who has done a fine job at the helm of his organization, will be leaving.

There is only one thing about which we have some trepidation and that is the name the new organization will take. In an age of overlong names and unwieldy acronyms, we hereby put in a plea for something short and sweet.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 3, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.