Of secret agendas and PR fiascos
You’d almost think insurers are trying to push us into a single-payer system
Notes on the news:
■ Apparently, the insurance industry is pushing a secret agenda.
The effort began in February when Anthem Blue Cross, a unit of WellPoint, informed subscribers that it wanted to raise premiums for individual insurance plans by an average of 25%, with some increases as high as 39%. That breathed new life into the Obama administration’s push for reform legislation as officials argued that insurers couldn’t be trusted to hold down costs.
Then, after the president signed the bill, the insurance industry began making noises that the law required it to cover pre-existing conditions only for children who were already customers. That raised the ire of the Obama administration and some members of Congress, who were convinced they wrote a law requiring insurers to provide near-immediate coverage of all sick children. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to America’s Health Insurance Plans vowing to issue new regulations to clarify the intent of the law. Lawmakers such as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) protested. “Any attempts to create loopholes at the expense of children’s healthcare are reprehensible, and those who wish to take such action will have to answer for it,” Rockefeller fumed.
By last week, the insurers had backpedaled, saying they would comply with the regulations the government issues. In the meantime, some lawmakers and activists started murmuring “I told you so” about the wisdom of a public option to keep insurers honest.
So far, the insurance industry has succeeded in helping to pass reform legislation and reviving talk of a public option. Undoubtedly, the next step will be to do something so abrasive that Americans will clamor for a single-payer healthcare system. Who knew that the industry was on a Marxist mission to wipe out private insurance?
■ Of course, it’s not just insurers who seem to have studied public relations under Marx—as in the Marx Bros. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, has geared up to alter the regulatory language of the health reform law and to defeat some Democrats who voted for it.
Now it’s not surprising that the chamber doesn’t like the new law. It never liked old proposals from the last century. When President Harry S. Truman was backing health reform, the chamber published a pamphlet titled You and Socialized Medicine. It denounced the “compulsory insurance program of the Democrat planners” as “another step toward further state socialism and a totalitarian welfare state.”
Perhaps the Chamber’s ancient blunderbuss tactics will win friends and influence people, but they seem anachronistic, if not antagonistic, in the 21st century. A lot of patients, providers and even insurers who will benefit from this law (think 32 million new customers) may not embrace the chamber’s ideas.
Meanwhile, some large corporations are taking immediate accounting charges to offset a tax change on retiree prescription drug coverage under the reform law. That break— which doesn’t expire for a few years—gave companies a 28% reimbursement for drug coverage and allowed them to deduct the entire cost of the plans from taxes. Congress approved it to encourage businesses to maintain their retiree coverage and not dump seniors into the then-new Medicare Part D system.
Some members of Congress, not surprisingly, want the companies to appear on Capitol Hill to explain the charges for the exemption loss.
Accounting games like this are second only to the setting of lavish compensation as the most popular pastime at too many corporations. Like balking at reforms, they might engender smiles in the C-suite, but they fuel outrage elsewhere.