Insurers quietly fund opposition to Democrats' health push
Updated 9:30 p.m.
By Dan Eggen
The nation's largest health insurance group confirmed Tuesday that it quietly funneled millions of dollars to an advertising campaign opposing Democratic health-care legislation even as it was publicly pledging support for reform.
National Journal reported that six major health insurers -- Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint -- contributed up to $20 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help fund a $100 million anti-reform ad campaign that began last year. The magazine, citing two unidentified health-care lobbyists, said the money was solicited by America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group which professed early support for the Obama administration's reform plans before souring on major provisions of the legislation.
AHIP press secretary Robert Zirkelbach confirmed the group's support for the advertising campaign, saying in a statement that many of the employers who purchase insurance plans were opposed to key parts of the health-care legislation under consideration in Congress.
"We share the very serious concerns employers have raised about provisions that will increase health-care costs, including new premium taxes that will hit businesses hard," Zirkelbach said. "So when the employer community -- our customers -- asked us to contribute to their campaign, we readily agreed."
But one insurer, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, said National Journal erred in naming it as a contributor to the chamber campaign.
"When we provided funds to AHIP last year, we insisted, and AHIP agreed in writing, that our funds could only be used for positive advertising in support of passing health reform," said Kaiser spokesman John E. Nelson.
The White House and reform advocates seized on the report as further evidence that the insurance industry has been attempting to undermine reform while claiming to support it. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer wrote in a blog posting that "big insurance companies are fighting tooth and nail to kill health reform that will wrest power from their hands and give it to American families."
Pfeiffer added, "It's no surprise that the insurance companies who profit from the broken status quo would oppose fixing the system."
Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive vice president dor government affairs, said in a statement that "we welcome any donors/funders to our effort."
"The Chamber is fully engaged in the health care reform debate because it's critical to the future of our economy, and our members are the ones who pay for health care," Josten said.
The insurance and business lobbies have frequently stumbled in their attempts to influence health-care legislation over the last year. AHIP's release of a critical study on the cusp of a Senate Finance Committee vote last October blew up because of shortcomings in the data, while the chamber abandoned plans in November to spend $50,000 on a study concluding that reform would "kill jobs and hurt the economy."
Critics of health reform argue that the chamber's ad campaign and other efforts have helped to soften mandates on employers and have likely killed the chances that a government-run insurance plan will be included in a final bill.
The new report comes at a fortuitous time for health-reform proponents, who nervously await the outcome of negotiations over a compromise reform bill that can pass muster in the liberal House and more conservative Senate. The debate is complicated further by the surprisingly close Senate race between GOP candidate Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley, who are vying to take over the seat held by the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D). A victory by Brown could threaten the ability of Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold for passage in the Senate.
January 12, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Health Care
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