Industry Moles

by dday

The Obama transition team is having people organize house parties to give their thoughts on health care reform. They are open, deliberative processes. So of course the insurance industry is seeking to sabotage them.

The health insurance industry is encouraging its employees and satisfied customers to attend. A trade group representing some of the nation’s largest health care businesses, including drug companies, is organizing several meetings. The American Medical Association and other medical societies are encouraging doctors to get involved.

The Maine Medical Association will convene a community discussion on Dec. 30. Group Health Cooperative of Seattle has sent e-mail messages to 35,000 subscribers encouraging their participation, and one of its doctors plans to lead a session next Tuesday.

The meetings, originally envisioned as a way to make good on Mr. Obama’s commitment to “health care reform that comes from the ground up,” could thus turn into living-room lobbying sessions involving some of the biggest stakeholders in the health care industry.

In general this is highly unlikely to really accomplish anything; it's a lot easier to bullshit politicians than your friends and neighbors, especially when everyone has personal experience interfacing with our broken health care system. I think that it's a very positive sign that the industry thinks they have to show up to these things at all. In another time, community meetings would not be seen as a threat to their business model. What this signals to me is that the industry is worried about the seriousness of the Obama team to overhaul health care, and they're trying whatever they can think of to subvert it.

Ultimately, I think they'll have to relent, but they'll key in on one element of the plan and target it for elimination: the public option. My own qualified support for what's been floating around in Democratic circles - the shared responsibility plan that is not single payer - relies on that public option (as well as serious, legitimate cost controls). If it goes, that would be a major setback to reform and would make the overall plan little more than a forced market funneling consumers to insurers.

Republicans also debated whether one aspect of Obama's health care proposal, giving people the option of buying a public health care plan, would weaken the private insurance market.

Mark Hayes, a Republican health policy adviser to the Senate Finance Committee, said Republicans have concerns because the government plan might have access to price controls and other tools not available to private insurers. This could lead to lower premiums in the government plan, which would cause most consumers to migrate out of the private market, he said.

"Over time the effect the government option could have [is an] erosion in the private market, [making] other choices not available," Hayes said.

Calling this government-backed plan one of the "radioactive fault lines" that has developed in discussions on the overhaul, McDonough suggested Democrats would be willing to look at other options.

"What is the purpose behind the proposal? The purpose . . . is [public plans are] one of the most important devices out there to provide cost accountability," McDonough said. "Maybe there are other way to achieve those ends."

Ezra explains that McDonough is John McDonough, Ted Kennedy's senior health adviser. He appears to be bargaining away the public option EXTREMELY early. Given this, I don't see why insurers are so keen on astroturfing the community meetings. They may have already won.

This would be a good question for the next round of "Open for Questions" at the President-elect's website.