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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Republican Congress and Health Insurance Companies: The Real Agenda

According to Wendell Potter, a former health-insurance company lobbyist, “the new law props up the employer-based system that insurers and large corporations benefit from so greatly. It also guarantees that private insurers will get billions of dollars in new revenue.”  It is no accident that Obama’s health-insurance law works out this way. Potter points out that Republicans will back off from repealing the mandate, but will push for other changes. The reason is that the mandate is in the health-insurers’ interest whereas some other features of the law are not. Private insurance companies would like to keep the mandate that will guarantee them more customers.  At the same time, the insurers would like to go back to refusing to cover kids with preexisting conditions, canceling policyholders’ coverage when they get sick, and setting annual and lifetime limits on how much the insurers have to pay for medical care. Also, the insurance companies do not like having to spend eighty percent of their revenue from premiums on medical care, and the insurers would like to get more from the US government for private medicare plans.

Potter makes the point that it is not in the Republicans’ interest to take out the mandate; they will put on a show—acting against the mandate while being unsuccessful—while working behind the scenes to take out planks deemed unprofitable by the insurance companies. In fact, the Republicans could actually strengthen the mandate because the insurance companies want to increase the penalties for not becoming one of their customers. Interestingly, even if the courts throw out the mandate, the entire law must be deemed unconstitutional.  This caveat was undoubtedly drafted by industry lobbyists so they would not be constrained by the law without the benefit of the guaranteed expanded customer base.

Potter’s major point is that the Republicans will go with the interests of big business in a stealth manner (similar to the stealth lobbying done by the insurance lobbyists). The insurance lobbyists have already used surragates to fearmonger “death panels” to kill any reform that might hurt the bottom line. So we can now suspect that Sarah Palin’s Facebook post in August, 2009, accusing the Obama administration of creating “death panels” as part of health-care reform was not an accident even if it has been reported in Newsweek as an “offhand remark.” According to Newsweek, that remark was “as inaccurate as it was incendiary.” Furthermore, in what we can now surmise stemmed from the power of the industry with a vested interest, the remarked “helped incite weeks of embarrassing town-hall meetings for Democrats, which in turn nearly brought down” health-care reform (Newsweek, p. 58). The real power behind this roadblock was that of the health-insurance companys’ lobby. The combination of the industry with such a vested interest having the ability to sway the public and exact leverage over members of Congress and the President (witness Obama’s change on a mandate and the public option) ought to worry those people who believe in having a republic as the form of government and love liberty. Devious subterranean private corporate power is undoing our republic without us knowing it, but this is how the lobbyists such at Potter have designed their strategies. We are not supposed to see it.

Sources: Wendell Potter, “Repeal and Replace?” Newsweek, November 15, 2010, pp. 42-43; Jay Newton-Small, “What Does She Want?” Newsweek, December 20, 2010, pp. 38-47