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White House: YOU Be Nice!

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About the same time that the head of a health insurer trade group was asking for some civility, the White House press secretary was making a similar plea.

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, asked for more civility Tuesday, during a press conference that landed in an article on the front page of The New York Times.

“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 said.

Supporters of health system change ought to recognize that health insurers have made efforts to compromise and tone down the rhetoric, Ignagni said.

Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s press spokesman, also complained about the increasingly raucous tone of the health system change debate, especially during the “town hall meetings” being held to promote health system change legislation, during a White House briefing held later in the day.

“I think the president would tell any of his friends or supporters that go to town hall meetings that first and foremost we can disagree — as you heard him say, we can disagree without being disagreeable, and that we can have a debate in this country that affords those that disagree with us the respect that each and every one of them deserve,” Gibbs said, according to a transcript provided by the White House.

A reporter at the briefing asked Gibbs whether the White House believes that “the anger that some members of Congress are experiencing at town hall meetings, especially over health care reform, is manufactured.”

“I think some of it is, yes,” Gibbs said. “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger.”

Gibbs noted that Richard Scott, a founder of Conservatives for Patients Rights, Washington, was also the head of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., Louisville, Ky., “a health care company that was fined by the federal government $1.7 billion for fraud.”

“I think that’s a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group,” Gibbs said.

“There’s a difference between — or maybe there’s different levels of orchestration or manufacturing, because if they’re busing people in and planting people at these rallies, that’s one level,” Gibbs said. “And if they’re posting a list on their Web site, a D.C. organization, and people from that area are going to the rally, that’s orchestrated to a degree, but it’s far more authentic in an organic sense….”

Conservatives for Patients Rights responded by noting that 75% of Americans who participated in a recent survey believe that President Obama’s health proposals would affect the deficit.

“It is a shame that Mr. Gibbs chooses to dismiss these Americans and their very real concerns” and instead has opted “to level personal attacks,” Scott says in a statement.

The White House briefing transcript is available here.