Labor, its allies, elected officials and the White House itself are mobilizing in response to insurance company attacks on health care reform. The response comes after the industry threatened this week that passage of a bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee would lead to massive hikes in insurance premiums for millions and then launched an advertising campaign against reform.
"The insurance industry has decided to lead the charge against health reform, and everyone recognizes their motives: profits," said White House deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer. "We are going to make sure they can't sink this effort in the last minute."
"This is an outrageous threat by one of the richest industries in America," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the 86,000 member California Nurses Association National Nurses Organizing Committee.
"Our legislators should respond to this bullying and stop coddling a useless industry whose sole function is to make enormous profits from the pain and suffering of patients while providing little in return," DeMoro declared.
The insurance companies went on the attack after they decided that the bill passed in the finance committee did not give them enough of what they want. In particular, they were angry that the committee reduced the penalties people would pay if they failed to purchase insurance.
"Even without the higher penalties they want, the finance bill itself is a stunning, massive bailout to the insurance industry," DeMoro said.
Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, agreed and said that major improvements are needed before the reform measure goes to the full Senate for a vote.
"The Senate Finance Committee bill remains deeply flawed," McEntee declared, "At a time when family budgets are already under enormous pressure, the bill does not ensure that coverage will be affordable for average families and it would finance reform with a tax on family health care plans. Unlike the Senate labor committee bill, the finance committee failed to include a public option to provide real competition in the health insurance marketplace. It also fails to require employers to provide health coverage for their employers or contribute a meaningful sum to help pay for subsidies."
Yesterday the AFL-CIO, in a statement, labeled the insurance company report that said reform would force higher premiums as "lies and damned lies."
Today, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the group that prepared the report for the industry, backed off its findings that reform would cause average premiums to go up by $20,000 and said that the industry had instructed them to ignore in their report any parts of the finance bill that would result in lower costs to consumers.
The insurers, however, are refusing to back down.
America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group, fired another round of shots at the reform effort as it launched television ads across the country warning seniors enrolled in private Medicare plans that they would lose benefits under the legislation.
Health care reform advocates note that the finance bill would reduce spending on the private Medicare plans by $113 billion over the next decade but that this could come from reducing the profits insurers now reap from those programs.
Referring to the insurance industry push against reform, Pfeiffer said, "It's pretty clear now, they intend at the eleventh hour to launch a very expensive and misleading campaign."
While Republicans have been supportive of the insurance industry many are silent about this latest controversy.
Many Democrats are suggesting that the industry actions will anger voters and actually serve to increase support for the public option.
"The insurance industry ought to be ashamed of this report," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who, like Kerry, supports a public option, said the last-minute attacks by the industry "are one more indicator we're on the right track."
On the public option, House Speaker Nancy Peslosi said, yesterday, "We will have a public option in the House bill, as I have said. We are considering several variations. We want to have the one that does the best job."
DeMoro said, "It's long past time for our elected officials in Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that the problem today is not a public option, it's the private option. The private insurers are at the heart of everything that is wrong with our present system and why it is failing in access, cost and quality."