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Life Health > Health Insurance > Your Practice

Hail Mary Pass

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Far be it from me to use football terminology, but it sure seemed like America’s Health Insurance Plans threw a Hail Mary pass when it issued an eleventh-hour report that it apparently hoped would throw a giant-sized monkey wrench into the glacially-coalescing health care reform legislation being incubated by the Senate Finance Committee.

The Finance Committee was scheduled to vote–finally!–on its package on Tuesday, Oct. 13. AHIP released its study on Sunday, Oct. 11. The gist of the report, cobbled together (and none too well at that) by PricewaterhouseCoopers, was that the Senate Finance legislation would actually jack up the cost of health insurance premiums for ordinary folks. Indeed, the report said, premiums would rise higher than under the current system.

Now, if you’re going to do something like this–especially after you’ve pledged to play nice, as health insurers have–you really need to make sure that the bomb you’re lobbing is actually going to go off and cause the havoc you desire on your target as opposed to exploding in your hands and leaving you in tatters like Wiley Coyote or some other cartoon character.

The administration and other Democrats were quick to jump on the 26-page report as “distorted and flawed” (in the words of a White House spokesman).

The New York Times reported it thusly: “White House officials said the industry had ignored features of the bill that would lower costs for consumers, like subsidies for people who could not afford insurance. The report, by PricewaterhouseCoopers, acknowledges, ‘We have not estimated the impact of the new subsidies.’”


It is hard for me to believe that AHIP President Karen Ignagni, who is usually very savvy in the ways of Washington, could believe that this type of thing would succeed.

Rather, it has all the flat footedness and tone deafness of executives who can only see what they want to see without regard for how it’s going to play out in the political arena and in the long term.

And, of course, what it does is once again reinforce that image of health insurers as greedy, ‘we’ll do anything for a profit’ robber barons.

Earth to health insurers: That image needs no further reinforcement.

Even the GOP, which ordinarily would jump on something like this, kept its distance. As if what looked like red meat had a distinct odor.

On the other hand, perhaps the report did have a bit to do with swaying one vote among the Finance Committee members. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me., who was the only Republican to join committee Democrats in approving the bill, was reported as saying of the AHIP report that “it wasn’t based on any valid assumptions.”

The final vote was 14-9 to vote the bill out of the committee.

I don’t think anyone should have great expectations about insurers being called on for their input from here on out. The folks who are going to be doing all the wheeling and dealing as the bill makes its way to the Senate floor and then into the Senate-House conference to iron out the differences between the two chambers’ final bills are probably going to have pretty vivid memories of how faithless insurers were at the end of the process.

With this report, insurers committed the worst blunder possible in D.C.: they looked desperate and they failed.

Steve Piontek



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