The Strange Role of the Insurers
I feel for Karen Ignani, head lobbyist for the health insurance industry. For the last year, her group has been by far the most cooperative of any major industry stakeholder. It has attended every summit and signed every letter. It has made substantive concessions and readied itself for a new business model. And even with all that good faith dealing, it's still becoming public enemy number one for health-care reform. The president is still going around touting his eightfold path of consumer protections, all of which are protections from the worst actors in the insurance industry. “The rhetoric that we are hearing is reminiscent of ’93, ’94, but we’re on the 2009 playbook,” sighs Ignani. “The inconvenient fact is that we support those reforms.”
The big question right now is whether the focus on the insurance industry refashions the insurance industry into an enemy of reform. Many in Ignani's organization want her to dump $100 million into an aggressive ad campaign that will return some fire. But I don't think she will. Insurers might be taking a few more hits publicly, but nothing has changed for them. As Ignani herself says, they've already signed onto the set of consumer protections envisioned in health-care reform. There's no further cost to having the president talk about the unsettling practices that led to those protections.
In a way that's not true for doctors or hospitals, drugmakers or device manufacturers, insurers actually do want health-care reform to happen this year. The reason is simple: It reduces their uncertainty. It's very hard to imagine a health-care system without doctors and hospitals, or drugs and medical technology. But it's very easy to envision a heath-care system without insurers. They don't provide anything of obvious value that couldn't be provided by Medicare. And they're wildly unpopular, which accounts for their sudden elevation in the health-care reform debate.
None of that really matters in this conversation, because they're not in any real danger. But who knows about the next one? Or the one after that? As costs get worse and the need for radical reforms becomes more acute, it becomes more and more likely that a future stab at health-care reform will substantially harm insurers. So better to participate in the process they can trust then hope that the next iteration won't coincide with an uncommonly populist moment, or a particularly acute crisis, or be sparked by a particularly horrible rescission story.
Posted by: TheIncidentalEconomist | August 4, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: labonnes | August 4, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: anne3 | August 4, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dugmartsch | August 4, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: cmpnwtr | August 4, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: eRobin1 | August 4, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: PorkBelly | August 4, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ThomasEN | August 4, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: windshouter | August 4, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: leoklein | August 4, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jamesoneill | August 4, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: eRobin1 | August 4, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lensch | August 4, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: paul314 | August 4, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: akmakm | August 4, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: serialcatowner | August 4, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.