The health insurance lobbys new listening tour on covering the uninsured has raised eyebrowsand hacklesamong those on the front lines of healthcare reform. Everyone, of course, remembers the Health Insurance Association of Americas Harry and Louise campaign, which helped to sink the Clinton reform plan in the early 1990s. The group, now known as Americas Health Insurance Plans, is trying a warmer, fuzzier approach this time, hoping to position itself as the consumers ally during next years reform debate.
Once you have stopped laughing, dear reader, may I continue? Actually, you have to give AHIP credit for chutzpah. The listening tour, which started in the presidential battleground state of Ohio before moving on to Michigan, came just as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was signing legislation prohibiting health plans from giving out bonuses to employees based on their success in cutting off sick people from coverage, an act known in insurance lingo as rescission. The word comes from rescinding, as in: We are rescinding that insurance policy because the patient knew or should have known or cant prove he didnt know he had cancer.
It also came as a number of those hit by rescissions have won notable settlements from insurers for the practice, which allegedly is done to stop fraud but often is done to stop medical losses. Health Net has paid at least $43 million stemming from settlements over rescissions in Arizona and California. The California Managed Health Care Department has fined Blues plans $13 million over rescission practices and forced Kaiser Permanente to reinstate coverage to 1,000 policyholders improperly dropped based on being sick.
What is most disingenuous about AHIPs listening tour, which is just a small part of what is going to be a massive advertising campaign in anticipation of health reform, is that the group knows all about the problems of the uninsured. Everyone in this industry does. We have dozens of studies documenting every aspect of the issue. We have reports by advocacy groups on the effects of not being insured. We have collections of real-life stories about and by the uninsured. The real question is: What can be done to fix the problem?
So now we come to why AHIP is mounting its pre-emptive strike. Its effort is called the Campaign for an American Solution. This translates roughly to: The Campaign to Protect the Private Insurance Status Quo. There is reason for AHIP to worry. Barack Obama seeks to add a new public-insurance offering that could siphon off some of the individual market from private health plans. He also wants to force insurers to stop denying coverage based on a persons pre-existing conditions and age. Democrats in Congress have already slashed some of the Medicare Advantage booty that private plans won in 2003 and cant wait to perform more reform on their GOP-backing antagonists in the insurance industry next year.
AHIP has its own reform plan, which is strange if it is just setting out to take the pulse of the uninsured. It backs expanding government coverage for children, tax credits to buy individual insurance, expanded health savings accounts and state-run plans to provide guaranteed access for people with high medical costs. In other words, insurers will have no skin in this game.
AHIP says it may modify its plan based on what it hearswhile listening.
Health Care for America Now, a coalition of unions, consumer groups and political activists, is poking fun at the AHIP tour. The coalition is mounting its own $40 million ad campaign to influence the healthcare debate this year and next.
The airwaves will be so full of healthcare reform talk, you wonder if anyone will be able to hear anything.