Health Insurers Reborn

Newly Merged AHIP Readies Ad Campaign

Posted June 11, 2004 at 3:43pm

A few months after U.S. health insurers formed a single lobbying force, the industry’s Washington trade group has launched a major public-relations offensive to help shape the health care debate in this fall’s elections and next year’s Congress.

The newly named America’s Health Insurance Plans is rolling out a series of five print advertisements for inside-the-Beltway publications, seeking to combat the notion that nothing can be done on health care legislation just because Americans are split on the issue.

“We are challenging the notion that it’s a 50-50 nation,” said Karen Ignagni, the association’s president and chief executive officer. “It may be a 50-50 nation at 30,000 feet in the air, but when you talk about health care issues, it’s not a 50-50 nation.”

The first ad, which ran last week, asserted that seven out of 10 likely voters support medical-liability reform to cut down on frivolous lawsuits.

“Voters may be divided on many issues, but there is broad agreement on how to make quality healthcare more accessible and more affordable,” the advertisement says. “Voters know that the litigation lottery is making healthcare too expensive.”

Later ads will argue that broad majorities of Americans support creating tax-free health care savings accounts, ensuring that seniors have choices of private health plans under Medicare, basing treatment on the best scientific evidence, and requiring the disclosure of medical safety and quality information.

The poll numbers cited in the advertisements are based on a poll conducted by Bill McInturff of the firm Public Opinion Strategies in key battleground states. The polling firm does both Republican and corporate work.

Ignagni said the poll shows that “there is a clear pathway here to health care reform.”

The effort goes beyond advertisements. In addition to the association’s Washington-based staff of 150, the industry has retained staff in 46 states and hired seven regional directors to coordinate state activities.

The association also has created a rapid response team to make sure the industry’s message is accurately portrayed in the media.

“We run this organization like a campaign,” Ignagni said.

In addition to the poll figures, the ads direct readers to the trade association’s Web site (www.ahip.net) to get more information about the industry’s plan for health care reform.

The advertising campaign, the first since the merger, is part of a new aggressive public relations and lobbying effort by the health insurance industry.

“Rather than being organizations that wait for others to set forth proposals, [our board of directors] want us to be very involved in the discussions — moving in a direction that offers solutions, rather than reacting,” Ignagni said. “We want to be very active rather than sitting back and reacting.”

America’s Health Insurance Plans was created last fall after the merger between the American Association of Health Plans and the Health Insurance Association of America.

Within a month after the groups merged and Ignagni was installed as it’s head, America’s Health Insurance Plans crafted a detailed outline for health care reform.

“We are setting forth an agenda that is very clear, very straightforward,” she said.

Now Ignagni wants to work aggressively to promote the plan in Washington and in a dozen battleground states around the county.

“We’ve never had the staff resources and team to work in a cooperative way outside the Beltway,” Ignagni said. But after the merger, Ignagni believes the association is well positioned to shape the debate over health care reform.

In Washington, lobbying efforts for America’s Health Insurance Plans are run by Scott Styles, a GOP lobbyist who recently rejoined the association after a stint with the firm formerly known as Bergner, Bockorny, Castagnetti, Hawkins & Brain.

Other lobbyists involved in the effort are Dan Meyer and Steve Champlin of the Duberstein Group; Jay Hawkins of Bergner Bockorny; and Howard Cohen, a former Ways and Means Committee staffer.