Health Care Reform: The Insurance industry’s Triumph

This article is the second of a two part series on health care reform. The first article, which can be found here, focused on the details of the bill. This article will chronicle the health insurance industries’ role in shaping and ultimately passing the health care reforms.

The Individual Mandate:

From compromise and things half done,

Keep me with stern and stubborn pride;

And when at last the fight is won,

God, keep me still unsatisfied.

Louis Untermeyer (1885 – 1977)

The American people are acutely aware that the healthcare reform they received from the Obama administration has been the result of an immense number of compromises with both conservatives and private business ineterests. But few recognize just how corrupt those compromises became as deliberations over healthcare proceeded.

Many times had the idea of a single payer system been proposed to congress. Representatives John Conyers, Jr. and Dennis Kucinich, in fact, have introduced the United States National Health Care Act every congressional term for the past 9 years.

Its an interesting comment on the nature of political reform in the United States, if we cared to pay attention to it.

Despite significant support amongst the majority of American citizens, single payer initiatives (which, some have suggested, might closely resemble a medicare like system simply covering all citizens) have, time and again, failed to gain significant traction in congress, and no one is unclear on why this is the case. Plainly, it’s because the government is beholden to the interests of the insurance industry – or, more frankly, to capital.

The extent to which this is the case, however, could do with some closer inspection.

The Health Insurance Lobby (AHIP):

Before the debates in Washignton even began, the idea of a single payer system was off the table. Obama simply rejected the idea outright:

“There are countries where a single-payer system may be working. But I believe – and I’ve even taken some flak from members of my own party for this belief – that it is important for us to build on our traditions here in the United States.”

CEO of the largest health plans provider in the U.S., Angela Braly, put it more bluntly when she told protesters: “we will not sacrifice profitability for membership.”

She held true to her promise. Wellpoint, Inc., the company Braly presides over, funneled over $86 million through AHIP and the National Chamber of Commerce to help defeat any possibility of a single payer reform.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) is a national trade association of 1,300 insurance companies. Together, their policies cover nearly 200 million Americans.

The association has been extremely active since their formation in 2003, and has spent over $30 million in lobbying efforts in Washington to influence federal regulators and representatives. They have 53 full time lobbyists currently working for them.

Some of AHIP’s top member companies have also managed to hire themselves out directly to senators.

Democrat Max Baucus, for instance, recruited former Wellpoint Vice President Liz Fowler as a top aide in 2008, the same year her company was ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars to families they had illegally cancelled insurance on.

Carrie Brown of Politico writes,

“If you drew an organizational chart of major players in the Senate health care negotiations, Fowler would be the chief operating officer.

As a senior aide to Baucus, she directs the Finance Committee health care staff, enforces deadlines on drafting bill language and coordinates with the White House and other lawmakers.”

As a senior aide to Baucus, Fowler was charged with authoring the first guide to what would eventually become our health care reform: HR 3590’s  white paper.

Baucus was naturally greatful. So greatful, in fact, that he made a special point of thanking the former vice president of public policy for Wellpoiont Inc. in front of the U.S. senate:

“I wish to single out one person, and that one person is sitting next to me. Her name is Liz Fowler. Liz Fowler is my chief health counsel. Liz Fowler has put my health care team together. Liz Fowler worked for me many years ago, left for the private sector, and then came back when she realized she could be there at the creation of health care reform because she wanted that to be, in a certain sense, her profession lifetime goal. She put together the White Paper last November–2008–the 87-page document which became the basis, the foundation, the blueprint from which almost all health care measures in all bills on both sides of the aisle came.”

Conclusions:

Amidst the brawl over health care reform, one party stands out as the clear winner. The insurance industry.

Although the entirety of the health care debate has been shown through the lens of America’s politicians – between the Democrats and Republicans – the real dividing line in this debate has been between American workers and the insurance lobby.

In their bid to effectively author the new healthcare reforms, the insurance lobby was willing to make limited concessions. They ultimately would concede regulations on coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, the limited extension of coverage to more citizens, and state run health-care exchanges. But those concessions were made with the knowledge that reform would ultimately increase the transfer of wealth from American families to the wealthiest private business interests.

In other words, it is true that more of us will qualify for insurance, and that more people will be covered going forward than were in the past. But as far as the insurance industry is concerned, we’re simply using public tax dollars to subsidize privately owned businesses.

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