A Return to Form for the Insurance Industry
TPMDC's Christina Bellantoni asked Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), about the insurance industry's attack on health-care reform. After making pretty clear that he basically agreed with the report, Bardella cautioned that "any Republican that uses the report should double-check to see how much money they've received from the industry, as that'll be a very easy rebuttal for Dems to hit back."
The politics of this report are quite strange. The insurance industry serves as the Democrats' preferred villain on health-care reform. Most Democrats feel about the insurers much the way FDR felt about the financial industry: "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred." In August, when the effort was at its nadir, the Obama administration actually attempted to rebrand the project "health insurance reform" to take advantage of public loathing of the insurance industry. This is an enemy Democrats aren't particularly concerned with having.
The insurance industry knows that, of course. That's partially why it's been the most helpful of all the stakeholders thus far: It has less leverage than the other groups. It is both the least popular and the least necessary. People like doctors, and no health-care system in the world runs without them. But people don't like private insurers, and plenty of systems function in their absence. With that in mind, they've tried to stick close to Obama, in the hopes that their cooperation would ensure their protection. They seem to be abandoning that stance now, and for what? The short-term impact of this seems to be that Nancy Pelosi's windfall profits tax on the insurance industry just got a whole lot more likely, as Democrats just got a whole lot angrier at a group they never liked in the first place.
The second question is whether other stakeholders will follow suit. If this report had come from the American Medical Association, for instance, health-care reform would be in a lot more trouble. This is a wake-up call to Democrats: There are no other numbers out there. No one has done an analysis of consumer premiums under the Finance bill, or any of the bills. The Congressional Budget Office looked at governmental spending, but that's not the most relevant measure for most voters. The insurance industry's analysis isn't credible, but the administration needs to get some credible numbers, or some numbers they can call credible, out there quick. The nightmare scenario is that someone more legitimate than the insurers, but still opposed to reform, beats them to it.
Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.
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