Health Insurers Know the Choice in November. Do We?

The loudest critics of health reform on the ideological left say that health reform is a boondoggle to health insurance companies.  It delivers an individual mandate (they skip the whole part about how the mandate only applies on a sliding scale of affordability of between 2% and 8%), without a public option.  The argument goes that therefore, President Obama and the Democrats have just delivered Americans to the lion's den of the murder by spreadsheet industry.

This argument, of course, does not hold up to scrutiny, given the wide range of new regulations insurance companies are to be subjected to (including no more pre-existing conditions discrimination and no more rescission when you get sick, plus your insurance company must spend 80-85% of premium revenue on actually providing care -- it's notable that enacting a pre-existing conditions discrimination ban without a mandate would simply raise premiums even faster) and the subsidies that will be available in the new exchanges that open in 2014.  There's another curious group that didn't get the memo on what a boon it is to the insurers, either: the health insurance companies!
The insurance industry is pouring money into Republican campaign coffers in hopes of scaling back wide-ranging regulations in the new healthcare law but 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 Democratic politicians and organizations.
The Los Angeles Times notes that this is a marked change from 2009, when health insurers largely split their donations to Democratic and Republican interests.  So what happened this year that suddenly caused them to swing all the way to the right?  Ahh, big f*cking deal happened.  This happened (watch the video as the President signs health reform into law):



Health insurance companies not only tried to kill this important reform, but when they came up short, they started funding the enemies of reform - a party that is on the record planning to repeal and defund health care reform lock, stock and barrel.  Here's Wendell Potter on what the insurers want:
"The industry would love to have a Republican Congress," said Wendell Potter, a former executive at Cigna Corp., one of the country's biggest insurers. "They were very, very successful during the years of Republican domination in Washington."
And why would the industry love to have a Republican Congress?  Because the Republicans will repeal the Patients' Bill of Rights on steroids.  The current law will mandate that people buy health insurance, but it does so within reasonable affordability limits (as noted above in this article), subsidies for those who need it, and hardship exemptions.  No likey, say the insurers.
"The health reform law did not deliver the uninsured in the way that insurers wanted," said veteran healthcare analyst Sheryl Skolnick, senior vice president at CRT Capital Group.
Health insurer giving turn to Republicans in 2010
Insurance companies realize a simple fact: if they don't make their product affordable and abide by the new standards, people will not be required to buy it.  This is why they want to turn the clock back to when they had no regulatory oversight, and could do whatever they wanted.  Their best bet to do that?  A Republican Congress.  And that's why, their political giving chart took a sharp right turn in 2010 (see chart by Mark Hafer of LA Times on the right).

Democrats and President Obama did not pass health reform to curry favor with the health insurance industry, quite the opposite.  They did what was required to pass health reform - as the President said, after almost a century of trial.  Democrats passed, and President Obama signed into law, historic health care reform legislation that has already outlawed lifetime limits, pre-existing condition discrimination against children, opened high-risk pools in all 50 states, given small businesses tax break for providing their employees health insurance and allowed young adults up to 26 years of age to stay on their parents' plan.  It just so happened that this year, Democrats passed health care reform that will outlaw pre-existing condition discrimination for everyone, allow Americans to shop in an exchange for health insurance and ensure a comprehensive minimum set of benefits.

No wonder insurance companies want to gut this reform by helping elect a Republican Congress.

But here is the real question, my fellow progressives and my fellow Americans.  Are we going to let them?  Are we going to let the insurance companies win just as health reform is beginning to become reality?  Are we going to let a kid with cancer get kicked off health insurance again?  Are we going to let insurance companies put a cap on how much care you deserve throughout life again?  Are we going let the Republicans take control and shut down the implementation of health care reform?  Our choice could not be clearer.  Are we going to build on health reform, or are we going to turn the clock back?  Health insurance companies understand this choice.  They are spending millions to try to turn the clock back.  We must understand the choice too, and work like hell to keep moving forward.