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AHIP: Please Be Polite

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The head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a health insurance industry trade group, has called on policymakers to “stop demonizing the industry.”

Karen Ignagni, the president of AHIP, Washington, also has restated the health insurance industry’s objections to the creation of any kind of “public plan.”

Ignagni made the comments during a conference call with reporters.

As Congress takes its summer recess, “the country should be in the midst of a transformative national conversation about health care reform,” Ignagni said.

Instead, she said, “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.”

Ignagni spoke as Democrats were castigating health insurers, Republicans in candidates, and others for their efforts to slow work on health system change legislation.

President Obama has started using the term “health insurance reform” when referring to the health care overhaul effort.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., today had an op-ed article in the Washington Post that singled out health insurers for criticism.

“The current health-care system gives insurance companies all the power,” Sebelius writes in the op-ed.

“They get to pick and choose who gets a policy. They can deny coverage because of a preexisting condition,” Sebelius writes. “They can offer coverage only at exorbitant rates – or offer coverage so thin that it’s no coverage at all.”

Sebelius writes that the administration’s proposal for a public plan will give more Americans choices and more peace of mind.

While defending the health insurance industry, Ignagni made it clear that the industry has no plans at this time to walk away from the negotiating table.

“Eighty percent of the work has been done” in drafting health system change legislative reform, Ignagni said.

But Ignagni repeated the industry’s adamant opposition to any form of public plan, including the cooperative plan proposal that a bipartisan group at the Senate Finance Committee is considering.

Any kind of public plan, even a coop, would involve having “administered prices,” Ignagni said.

“That would have deleterious consequences,” she said. “It would bankrupt hospitals and doctors; send private insurers into a death spiral, and break the promise that people could keep the coverage they already have. That’s cost-shifting we can’t accept.”

She reminded the reporters on the call that health plans are advertising in support of bipartisan reform, and that health plan profits account for only 1% of U.S. health care spending.