Of se­cret agen­das and PR fi­as­cos

You’d al­most think in­sur­ers are try­ing to push us into a sin­gle-payer sys­tem

Modern Healthcare - - Opinions Editorials - NEIL MCLAUGH­LIN Manag­ing Ed­i­tor

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.