The Los Angeles Times reported recently that the health insurance industry is pouring funds into the campaign coffers of Republican candidates who pledge to repeal or limit the recently-enacted health-care reform law. Insurers want to repeal the provisions that protect the individual consumer, including provisions to prevent the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and the ban on retroactively rescinding policies when people get sick. They also want to repeal the elimination of lifetime and annual caps on coverage, and get rid of mandated preventive care and screenings.
But the health insurance industry wants to keep one key provision of the new law — the mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance. No surprise, since this mandate was ultimately and reluctantly accepted by the bill’s proponents at the insistence of insurers in order to win the health insurance industry’s support.
In 2009, when the healthcare reform law was being developed, the insurance industry split its political donations equally between Republican and Democratic lawmakers and organizations. Their political donations and lobbying activity wielded significant influence on the legislation as it developed. Now that the very imperfect bill has been signed into law, they’ve shifted their monetary influence peddling to the GOP by a margin of more than three to one in order to defeat the provisions they weren’t able to kill in the first go-round.
Insurers were able to defeat the provision that would have allowed those without health insurance — including millions of self-employed, contract employees, part-time employees, employees of small businesses and others not offered coverage through their employers — to buy into one of the plans offered to federal employees, including Congress. The number of Americans that fall into this category has increased significantly in the last decade. In 2000, 69 percent of workers were offered health insurance through their employers; in 2009, that percentage fell to only 60 percent, an astonishing drop in coverage offered at the workplace.
The provision allowing uninsured workers to buy into the federal employee health system became known as the “public option” and was largely misunderstood as being free and thus paid by taxpayers. The “public option” provision was defeated, with the help of heavy lobbying by insurers, but the mandate to purchase insurance remained, creating a significant pool of consumers forced to purchase private insurance or face a fine for not doing so. According to the Times, the insurance lobby is also advocating to increase the penalty significantly for those who don’t purchase insurance.
If the insurance industry gets its way, our broken healthcare system will deteriorate even further, with more cost shifting to consumers, less accountability and transparency for insurers, and more people losing their insurance when they need it most. The health-care reform law will no doubt be changed before it is fully implemented in 2014.
The bill has come to represent the worst of how Washington operates: secret deals worked into a convoluted process that results in an incomprehensible bill. It doesn’t do enough to bring down health-care costs, now approaching 20 percent of the nation’s GDP, an unsustainable amount that has not and does not produce better health for Americans.
The campaign donations the insurance industry is using to influence candidates are in addition to the millions insurers spend lobbying Congress. Incredibly, there are five health-care industry lobbyists for every member of Congress. In 2009, the number grew to eight lobbyists for each member of Congress during the bill’s deliberations.
To bring about real, lasting reform in health care, insurers can’t be in the driver’s seat. In the last three decades since health-care insurance began its shift from private non-profits to for-profits, costs have increased at a higher rate yet fewer Americans have health insurance. That’s not a road we can afford to travel. We don’t want to go where they want to take us.