October 4, 2010
Insurance firms infuse GOP with big doses of cash
By Noam N. Levey
Faced with wide-ranging new requirements in the health care law, the insurance industry is pouring money into Republican campaign coffers in hopes of scaling back regulations while preserving the mandate that Americans buy coverage.
Since January, the nation's five largest insurers and the industry's Washington-based lobbying arm have given three times more money to Republican lawmakers and political action committees than to Democrats.
That is a marked change from 2009, when the industry largely split its political donations between the two parties, according to federal election filings.
The largest insurers also are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobbyists with close ties to key Republican lawmakers who could be shaping health policy in January, records show.
Cigna's head lobbyist, G. William Hoagland, a former senior Republican Senate aide, said the company hopes to get a more receptive hearing next year. "This is all political now," he said.
"We generally support candidates whose views align with our business and health care interests," said Aetna spokeswoman Anjie Coplin.
And Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., which was vilified by Democrats this year for proposing huge rate hikes in California, has given nearly nine times as much to Republicans this year.
Karen Ignagni, America's Health Insurance Plans president, said she wouldn't speculate about what Republicans would do if they retake the House and Senate in November.
But she acknowledged the industry's interest in the GOP. America's Health Insurance Plans has given the party twice as much as it has given Democrats this year.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Ignagni said.
Comment: Well, that didn't last long. The insurance industry supported the Democrats just long enough to get passed into law their one policy proposal made in insurance heaven: a mandate for everyone to purchase their private insurance products. Now that we have to buy their plans, they want Republican-style market reforms to make sure that their insurance products are not priced totally out of the market, even if that leaves health care itself unaffordable.
What are these measures that Republicans support and that Democrats don't?
* Insurers want to be able to sell their plans across state lines. By opening up markets in the less regulated states, insurers can sell more competitively priced products, even if they provide patients less protection against loss.
* They want to sell less expensive, high-deductible plans linked to health savings accounts that attract their favored healthier and wealthier clientele, even if it harms the sick by pushing them into more expensive, higher-risk insurance pools.
* They want to increase wasteful taxpayer subsidies of their private Medicare Advantage plans in order to create incentives to shift more patients from our government Medicare program into their own industry plans.
* They want relief from having to insure high-needs, high-cost patients. They would do this by shifting the burden to taxpayer-financed high-risk insurance pools or reinsurance programs.
* They don't want to be exposed to some of the transitional programs such as requiring coverage of children with preexisting disorders.
* They want to be sure that required "standard benefits" are defined as loosely as possible to protect their market of low cost products, even if those products fail to provide adequate protection.
* They want to be sure that rules for waivers will be applied liberally so that they can continue to offer innovative products such as the mini-med plans for McDonald's employees that have basic benefits paying a maximum of $2,000 per year, or up to $10,000 maximum per year for the deluxe plan. (These plans are a cruel hoax.)
* They want to be sure that overall regulatory oversight will be relaxed as much as possible so that the free market can offer the highest quality insurance products at the very best prices (sic).
Right now Sandy and I have the pleasure and honor of hosting some of the Mad as Hell Doctors at our home during their current California tour in support of single payer. At dinner last night, one of them asked me if, when I'm writing the Quote of the Day, aren't there times that I want to say... like... Bullshit!!... or something like that.
Yes! Right now. Bullshit!! Today I'm also a Mad as Hell Doctor!
We have to get this uncaring, thieving industry out of our health care and out of our lives. The Republicans won't do that, but don't ever forget that it was the Democrats who set up the framework that will keep them there forever - unless we start exercising more effectively our responsibilities to participate in a citizen-run democracy.