Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Insurers Try to Make Their Voices Heard in Health Debate

LEBANON, Pa. — Chris Archibald spent almost an hour Tuesday morning in a line that snaked around several city blocks in this typically tranquil town surrounded by bucolic countryside. The 29-year-old Archibald, who runs his own landscaping company in Hershey, Pa., left his business for a few hours to try to get into a town-hall meeting hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) on the hottest topic of the August recess: health care reform. Archibald was mobilized to attend the forum by grass-roots organizers who work for the health insurance industry.But just as Democrats are having trouble getting their message out on their health care reform plans amid angry crowds that are stealing the show, Archibald didn’t make it into the meeting. The crowd inside was already at capacity, and hundreds of activists remained outside the Harrisburg Area Community College’s Lebanon building, holding signs and debating for the national news TV cameras that had gathered. “I have no problems with my insurance, other than I’d like costs to go down,” said Archibald, who wanted to go to the meeting, in part, to voice his opposition to a government health insurance proposal. His own health plan, he said, is offered by Highmark. “I would like to be able to offer insurance to my employees,” he added. “It kills me to say I don’t.”To help bolster its messaging at a time when Democrats have turned their rhetoric against health insurers, the industry has stepped up its already active grass-roots operations including the Campaign for an American Solution, which reached out to Archibald. The campaign is run by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurers’ main lobbying group.AHIP has 1,300 member companies, and the group is sending out talking points and working to mobilize those companies’ employees, policy-holders and other like-minded people to spread the word. On the ground in Lebanon, AHIP relied on the local expertise of a public affairs firm called the Bravo Group, which has offices in Harrisburg and Philadelphia. According to AHIP organizers, at least two insurance industry employees made it into the Specter meeting. While they did not want to speak on the record, the employees said they planned to send follow-up letters to Specter’s office about finding ways to lower health care costs while not harming quality.David Barnhart of the Locust Street Group, a grass-roots organizing firm retained by AHIP, said that from an organizational standpoint, the rowdiness at some town halls has made the insurers’ message harder to convey.“Our people want to have a discussion and ask questions,” he said. “They’ve found it slightly frustrating, but there’s a lot of real passion out there.” That passion was on display inside Tuesday’s meeting.Tim Trimble, who runs Trimble Associates in Lancaster, Pa., said he woke up at 5:30 a.m. to be in the line before 7 a.m. to get into the meeting, which started at 9:30. “It was too important to miss,” Trimble said in an interview before the event began.Joe Zimmerman, a public school teacher from Lebanon, said he was prompted to attend the event by a mailed invitation from Specter’s office and Zimmerman’s own interest in the health care debate.

comments powered by Disqus




Want Roll Call on your doorstep?