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Obama Unfairly Targets Insurance as Enemy of Reform

For one supposedly dedicated to bringing parties together for health care reform, President Barack Obama shows unremitting hostility toward one of them: the health insurance industry.

In practically every speech he gives or town hall he hosts, there’s a slam at insurance profits and methods — and no recognition of the role its lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, has taken to advance reform.

AHIP CEO Karen Ignagni, a former AFL-CIO official and Democratic Senate staffer, has departed utterly from the role that the insurance industry played in sinking health reform during the Clinton administration.

AHIP’s predecessor organization, the Health Insurance Industry Association, mounted the famous “Harry and Louise” TV ads that undermined public support for Clintoncare.

But in this round, within days of the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, Ignagni convened a conference of 350 health experts to call for universal coverage.

Though critics, including Obama, accuse the insurance industry and the Republican Party of being welded together, Ignagni promoted expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program against fierce opposition from the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress.

All during the 2008 presidential campaign, as Obama and other Democratic candidates pummeled the insurance industry and vowed to “change its business model,” Ignagni and AHIP’s board were working on plans to do just that on their own.

In December 2008, AHIP unveiled its big proposal: Insurance companies would guarantee coverage for all, dropping exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions, and they would charge the same premiums to everyone in a geographic region, subject only to their age and the benefit structure of their policy.

The trade AHIP sought was a mandate that everyone be covered, giving the industry the opportunity to sell policies to 40 million to 50 million presently uninsured people.

On top of all this, Ignagni was a major organizer of the “stakeholder” group — including hospitals, doctors, device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies — that met with White House officials and then with Obama, pledging savings of $2 trillion over 10 years.

Obama was pleasant enough to Ignagni at a White House event in March when pledges were unveiled, but most of the time he’s waging what amounts to jihad against the industry.

This week, at an AARP event, he said, “So, the idea behind reform is, No. 1, we reform the insurance industries so they can’t take advantage of you.”

At Children’s Hospital last week, he said, “Health care professionals are doing heroic work every day. ... But they’re being forced to fight through a system that works better for the drug companies and insurance companies than for the American people.”

He also said, “Even as America’s families have been battered by spiraling health care costs, health insurance companies and their executives have reaped windfall profits from a broken system.”

And, he added, “Those opposed to reform are doing nothing but working for insurance companies and insurance executives.”

He told the American Medical Association in June, “We need to end the practice of denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. The days of cherry-picking who to cover and who to deny, those days are over.

“I know you see it in your practices, and how incredibly painful and frustrating it is — you want to give somebody care and you find out that the insurance companies are wiggling out of paying.”

Obama’s animus against insurance companies, he has acknowledged many times, is “personal.”

As he told the AMA, “I’ll never forget watching my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final days, spending time worrying about whether her insurer would claim her illness was a pre-existing condition so it could get get out providing coverage.”

He told AARP that she ultimately was covered, but “that happens all across the country. We’re going to put a stop to that.”

The fact is — unacknowledged by Obama — that AHIP’s own proposal would eliminate pre-existing conditions, cherry-picking and denial of coverage when a person becomes unemployed.

Obama, along with liberal groups also on the attack, have been advocating a public plan as part of health reform “to keep the insurance companies honest” — or drive them out of business.

AHIP has been adamantly opposed to public plans modeled on Medicare, asserting their lower reimbursement rates and premiums will mean the end of private insurance.

Up to now, Obama has been just as adamantly in favor of a public plan, although as the Senate Finance Committee produces a bill without one, he may be wavering.

With liberals favoring a strong public plan and moderates and conservatives opposed, it’s likely to be up to Obama to broker a deal.

The question arises: Can somebody so personally hostile to insurance companies accept a solution that regulates the industry — as it now favors — or is he really out to destroy it?

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