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Health care Politics

Health Care Lie #494: Health Insurance Companies and Their Allies Are Blocking Reform

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve come to see it as a sign of dishonesty – of political manipulation – to portray the insurance companies as the primary villains in the problems with health care. As for example in this editorial in the Washington Post from the weekend:

[T]he campaign must focus attention on the insurance companies that are primarily responsible for the health-care mess. This means organizing public events across the country that can articulate Americans’ frustrations with the current health insurance system and polarize public opinion against the insurance companies and their allies. [my emphasis]

Of course – as those paying attention to the fight over reform know – the insurance companies stand to benefit from many of the provisions in the plan – if not from others such as the public option – and they seem to have realized in advance that they needed to get behind reform so they could shape it. Perhaps behind the scenes, they are trying to block it – but I haven’t actually seen any indication of it. (And neither has Ezra Klein who has been following this more closely and for much longer than I have.)

Health insurance companies are such an easy target though – as they seem to add little real value. Their secondary purpose – aside from spreading the impact of health risks – is to restrain costs – and in this they have failed miserably. Their aggressive culling from their rolls of all those who actually need the service they provide have undermined their primary purpose. They have adopted horrendous practices and seem to treat their customers in bad faith as a matter of course. They are such easy targets that they knew they needed to get behind reform early – and remain behind it though they are being made the public villain by the reformers. In a lot of ways, they should be: they are profiting from a faulty system that is hurting many Americans and is unsustainable; as prices skyrocket, their profits do as well. Statistics such as the medical loss ratio demonstrate that these companies are trying to do everything possible to avoid providing the service they are in business to provide. But I’m not sure you can make the case that spiraling health care costs are the fault of health insurance companies (though they have contributed in various ways.) And health insurance companies aren’t behind the various lies – from the allegations of a government takeover of the economy to death panels. They may be trying to scuttle the public option, but they stand to benefit from much of the plan – and it’s better for them to reduce the uncertainty and deal with legislation passed than to continue with an unsustainable system.

In other words, in this reform effort – which is mostly about health insurance reform – health insurers aren’t the primary obstacle.

[Image by Steve Rhodes licensed under Creative Commons.]

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