It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before the interest groups that stand to make or lose billions of dollars would come out swinging against the pending health reform bills.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, of course. President Obama reached out early and often to different interest groups to try to keep them at the table, and for the most part, he succeeded in getting the most powerful among them - health insurers, labor unions, physicians, hospitals, and drug manufacturers - to hold their fire. Until now, that is.
With Congress inching toward a consensus on health reform legislation, the health insurance industry decided that now was the time to make its opposition known to the bill being considered by the Senate Finance Committee. America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the successor trade association to the group that funded the "Harry and Louise" ads that helped kill Clinton's health reform plan, today released a report which claims that most Americans will pay thousands of dollars more in health insurance premiums if the Senate bill becomes law. Calling it a "blistering new attack" by the insurance industry, the AHIP-funded study by PricewaterhouseCoopers will provide "ammunition to Republicans attacking the legislation and might intensify the concerns of some Democrats who worry that the bill does not provide enough help to low- and middle-income people to enable them to buy insurance," writes Robert Pear in today's New York Times.
The timing of AHIP's report appears to be designed to undermine and potentially delay approval of the bill tomorrow by the Senate Finance Committee, the last of the congressional committees to complete action on health reform legislation.
Politics aside, is AHIP correct that the Senate Finance Committee bill will raise premiums? Ezra Klein, blogs in the Washington Post that "seriously engaging with its methodology probably gives it more credit than it deserves, making this seem like an argument between two opposing sides as opposed to a predictable industry hit job. But totally ignoring its claims means some of them might live unchallenged." He then proceeds to take apart most of the key assumptions behind the PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis.
I don't think AHIP will be the last stakeholder to try to mount public opposition to key elements in the bills. There is a sense among interest groups that time is running out on them, and if they want to make the bills more to their liking, they will have to go public with their opposition. Some of the grounds for their opposition, I am sure, will have merit and should be considered by Congress in crafting a final bill.
The problem is that we may be approaching a period where powerful interest groups that up until now have been saying "yes . . . but" to health reform will switch to "hell no . . . unless" each of their own particular objections are met, which of course is not possible. This in turn could cause public support to collapse, costing us the best chance in a generation to extend coverage to millions of Americans. Just ask Harry and Louise.
Today's question: What do you think of the insurance industry's decision to release a report, on the eve of the Senate Finance vote, claiming that most of us will see higher premiums if the plan passes?