Last night on the PBS Newshour, AHIP - the insurance industry's main lobby group - debated for the first time someone who's for health care reform, Health Care for America Now's National Campaign Director Richard Kirsch.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will start walking her members through major components of the final health care package Thursday as Democrats inch ever closer to a climatic vote on the landmark legislation.
In a sharply focused snapshot of the bitter fight over health care reform, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius confronted insurance executives Wednesday at their annual conference, challenging them to divert millions in anti-reform advertising dollars toward cutting premiums.
Richard Doerflinger doesn't look the part of a high-powered political strategist. Bearded and bespectacled, he works in a small, cluttered office out of one of Washington’s less fashionable neighborhoods, far from the lobbying bastions of K Street.
Insurers have responded to the administration’s campaign against recent rate hikes by blaming increasing health care costs, provider cost increases and adverse selection (healthier Americans are dropping coverage) for their premium increases. To hear them tell it, the insurance industry is a low-profit industry that spends just one cent of every premium dollar on administration and strives to reduce costs by encouraging efficiencies. Insurers “do not deserve to be vilified for political purposes,” Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) told the AP:
For every dollar spent on health care in America, less than one penny goes toward health plan profits. The focus needs to be on the other 99 cents.
Never mind that even if it were true that one penny adds up to $25 billion per year - a quarter of the cost of health reform over 10 years. But the claim is highly misleading:
Zirkelbach is clever enough to compare the private insurance industry’s administrative spending to national health care expenditures — 45 percent of which includes spending in Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs. In the context of total spending, insurers administrative costs may look small, but compared to the revenues of private insurers, administrative spending is seen as far more substantial. Insurers skim off 15-20 percent of premium dollars for administrative costs and profits which fund TV ad campaigns, Washington lobbyists, lavish company retreats and outlandish CEO salaries.
Another reason the insurance industry's excuse that their profits shouldn't be the "focus" doesn't hold water? They just launched ad campaigns spending over $1 million per day to try and kill health care reform to protect their profits - profits which are apparently so small as to be unworthy of scrutiny.
In a reverse twist on the old protesters' tactic of getting arrested to make a point, union leaders and other backers of President Obama's healthcare plan issued "citizen's arrest" warrants for health insurance executives Tuesday — accusing them of exploiting consumers.
Hundreds if not thousands of protesters and labor activists descended upon the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington today to try to make things a little more difficult for the health insurance lobbyists and executives gathered inside.
Some of the largest U.S. business groups announced a multimillion-dollar television advertising campaign aimed at defeating the Democrats' pending health-care legislation, as both backers and opponents of the initiative sought to target wavering lawmakers in what is expected to be the final phase of the legislative process.
The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders said Tuesday that they were bracing for a key procedural ruling that could complicate their effort to approve major health care legislation, by requiring President Obama to sign the bill into law before Congress could revise it through an expedited budget process.
The Chamber of Commerce's health care group, Employers for a Healthy Economy, has created a new anti-health care reform ad. Titled "Afford," the Chamber of Commerce clearly didn't pony up the dough for any actual facts in the short spot.
The Obama administration made the case on Tuesday that enough senators are now committed to passing reconciliation fixes to their own health care bill that House Democrats should feel comfortable passing that legislation as well.
This morning at 10:00 am on Capitol Hill (Rayburn House Office Building 2237, if you're in the area), the anti-insurance action from yesterday continues.
In a panel moderated by CIGNA executive turned whistleblower Wendell Potter, 24 insurance industry survivors will tell their heart-rending stories directly to their Members of Congress and ask Congress to listen to the American people and pass health reform that works for us, not big insurance.
Members of Congress scheduled to attend the forum include Chris Van Hollen (D-8th MD), Keith Ellison (D-5th MN), Jan Schakowsky (D-9th IL), John Conyers (D-14th MI), Jim McDermott (D-7th WA), Maxine Waters (D-35 CA), Anthony Weiner (D-9 NY), and John Sarbanes (D-3rd MD). Members unable to attend but scheduled to meet constituent survivors later on Wednesday include Adam Schiff (D- 29th CA), Charlie Wilson (D- 6th OH), Mark Kirk (R- 10th IL), Joe Pitts (R-16th PA), Edolphus Towns (D-10th NY), Heath Shuler (D-11th NC), James Oberstar (D- 8th MN) Earl Blumenauer (D-3 OR), and Ron Klein (D- 22FL). Additional members are expected to participate.
The survivors will then go to several key Republican offices and "express their disapproval" for opposing reform.
Today in DC, thousands marched. Thousands rallied. And thousands stood up and showed Congress what fighting for what you believe in looks like.
Starting from a rally in Dupont Circle with words from Howard Dean, to a full on citizens' posse down at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where the insurance companies were having their conference and plotting to kill health reform, the direct action sent a forceful message. Security was out in force, and our people got hassled while the insurance companies hid. At the end of the day, we got into the hotel and served a warrant of arrest.
See what happened:
The insurance companies have taken enough from us. It's time for Congress to listen to us and pass real health reform that works for the American people. We won't stop. We'll never let up. Congress must stop the insurance companies or we will. And in the end, we will win.
Today is the day that we arrest the insurance companies. Thousands will be in the streets today to protest the insurance companies and their skyrocketing profits while our health goes by the wayside. We'll be out there, risking it all, to show Congress how you stand up for what you believe in, and challenge them to pass health reform that works for us, not the insurance companies.
Throughout the day, I'll be posting pictures and updates via Twitter. (To get new photos, refresh the page.) Feel free to join in by twittering with the hashtag #m9.
Tomorrow, it's time to arrest the insurance companies.
Thousands of people will descend on the insurance companies, who are having a conference in DC and plotting how to kill health reform at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on 22nd Street. We're going to shut down their conference and stop them and business as usual, and we'll do whatever it takes to succeed.
Leaders will be there to stand with us and confront the insurance industry. Online leaders like Howard and Jim Dean from Democracy for America, Michael Kieschnick from CREDO, and Justin Ruben from MoveOn will be there. Labor leaders like Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO, Anna Burger of SEIU, Randi Weingarten of the AFT, and Gerald McEntee of AFSCME will be there. Community leaders like Deepak Bhargava of Campaign for Community Change, Jeff Blum and William McNary of USAction, and Bob Edgar of Common Cause will be there. We'll have leaders of faith, leaders from the doctor and nurse professions, and perhaps most importantly, victims of insurance company abuses.
Regina Holliday, a local resident of the District of Columbia, will be there.
She lost her husband, Frederick, 39, last year because he didn't get health insurance in time to diagnose his kidney cancer. By the time he found his dream job teaching at a major university - with good health insurance - his cancer was Stage 4 and had spread to his lungs and bones. Since her husband's death, Regina now cares for her two children, 11 and 4, and spends all her free time painting murals on Connecticut Avenue to draw attention to the need for health care reform and patient rights.
Stacie is the mother of twin daughters, now 11, who were diagnosed with leukemia when they were 4. Both girls needed stem cell transplants and other cancer treatments. The twins survived, but the glands controlling their growth were damaged. Doctors recommended that they receive daily growth-hormone injections. But Stacie's husband's company had switched to CIGNA for health insurance, and CIGNA refused to cover the hormone shots. With $30,000 in medical debt, a mortgage, her husband's brief unemployment and food costs, the family of six filed for bankruptcy in 2003. The twins now get their growth hormone drug free from Eli Lilly. But the family still pays about $4,012 a year in premiums to CIGNA, plus $650 co-pay for an annual cancer survivorship visit.
These people are going to put themselves on the line for what's right - health reform that works for the American people. And they're going to show Congress what standing up for what you believe in looks like.
To bolster the case for a far-reaching overhaul of the health care system, the Obama administration is seizing on a new analysis by Goldman Sachs, the New York investment bank, recommending that investors buy shares in two big insurance companies, the UnitedHealth Group and Cigna, because insurance rates are up sharply and competition is down.
On Tuesday, a coalition of labor unions and activist groups under the umbrella of Health Care for America Now are planning what they've billed as a "massive protest" at the health insurance industry's annual Washington policy conference.
When Alma Dickson slipped on an icy sidewalk in Dallas, Texas, she knew she was hurt. But she wasn’t sure that she could pay for the medical care she needed. The year was 1929 and Dickson, a schoolteacher, didn’t make enough money to pay for x-rays and treatment on her own. But Dickson had recently signed up for something new: A plan under which she paid a monthly premium in exchange for a promise of care at a local Dallas hospital. Dickson went, had her broken ankle set, and left without paying a penny.
A study put together by Goldman in mid-October looks at the estimated stock performance of the private insurance industry under four variations of reform legislation. The study focused on the five biggest insurers whose shares are traded on Wall Street: Aetna, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, CIGNA and Humana.
…What the firm sees as the best path forward for the private insurance industry's bottom line is, to be blunt, inaction.
The study's authors advise that if no reform is passed, earnings per share would grow an estimated ten percent from 2010 through 2019, and the value of the stock would rise an estimated 59 percent during that time period.
The market concentration for health insurance is so monopolized in some areas that insurance companies are willing to raise prices and lose customers in an effort to improve their bottom line, a leading insurance broker told Wall Street analysts on Wednesday.
In a conference call organized by Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research, Steve Lewis, a highly regarded broker at the financial consulting firm Willis, painted a picture of the health insurance market in which consumers seem likely to be priced out of coverage.
Noting that "price competition" between insurers was "down from a year ago," Lewis relayed that "incumbent carriers seem more willing than ever to walk away from existing business."
The best thing for the insurance industry, according to Wall Street analysts, is business as usual. It will allow insurers to keep consolidating their monopolies, keep pricing sick customers out of the market, and thus keep increasing their already record profits.
The people, on the other hand, not only need a health reform bill, but they need the right one. And there's a way to get it done.
Reconciliation is gathering steam in the Senate. 47 Senators are on board or very open to the idea, and enough others have indicated openness to bring the tally above 50. And the package of fixes done through reconciliation needs to include measures to make health care more affordable for everyone and hold insurance companies accountable.
Congress needs to understand that not passing a bill is giving the insurance companies exactly what they want and dooming their constituents to more denials of care, more medical bankruptcies, and more deaths because people can't afford insurance. Congress needs to listen to us instead and pass something that works for the American people.
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