Wednesday

So who is really lying about health care reform?


With shots being fire now in earnest from both sides of the debate the real issue boils down to this; who is telling the truth? Both sides are equally steeped in self serving rhetoric and have equally selfish motivations for wanting to see their agenda forwarded. We are left with the unenviable task of deciphering fact from fiction; truth from falsehood.

The following MSNBC article has a decidedly biased opinion on the issue but does serve to highlight some of the more contentious issues. It also serves to highlight the fact that the administration has finally found a lightning rod upon which to discharge its vitriol.

Insurers emerge as Obama’s top foe on health

Tenuous truce with White House has turned quickly into an all-out battle
For months, President Obama and his administration waged their fight for a health-care overhaul without a clear opponent, even courting the industry executives and interest groups that helped kill reform efforts 15 years ago.

But attacks on the leading Democratic reform plan this week by the insurance lobby left little doubt that two of the most powerful institutions involved in the debate — the White House and America's insurance companies — have abandoned any real hope of forging a compromise. What was a tenuous truce has turned quickly into an all-out battle, with both sides ratcheting up the hostilities and their rhetoric.

It seems as though the consumer has lost his voice, strained though it was, in this ongoing battle. The issue at hand has been defined as a showdown between Goliath and Goliath with David forced from the battle by the two faceless competing interests. Consumers need to redefine the debate from the realm of political posturing to one of cause and effect. Consumers may feel the effect with little or no say in the process but they should make clear the effect of ignoring their will to the politically aspirant.

As the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a broad, 10-year, $829 billion bill to remake the nation's health-care system, Obama's top advisers and the insurers moved into a new, more intense stage of conflict.

"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 at the last minute."


Pfeiffer has been unambiguous in pointing out the insurance industry’s motives while being less than forthcoming about the motivation behind handing over such a large portion of private industry to the federal government. Consumers should keep a wary eye on such motivations as they rarely bode well where individual rights are concerned.

Pfeiffer castigated the industry for releasing a report Monday that concluded the Finance Committee bill would increase costs to consumers. "They made themselves a very good foil," he said.

They have done nothing more than point out the repercussions of such an unprecedented takeover. Regardless of motivation it is a commendable action.

The insurers, however, showed no sign of being chastened. America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group, opened a fresh line of attack with a multistate advertising campaign warning that senior citizens enrolled in private Medicare plans could lose benefits under the legislation.

"Is it right to ask 10 million seniors on Medicare Advantage for more than their fair share?" the television spot asks. "Congress is proposing $100 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says many seniors will see cuts in benefits."

The administration bludgeons the insurance industry for matching its own fervor in informing the populace. The insurance industry has done nothing more than point out what the C.B.O. has already stated. For that they have earned the ire of the administration?

The Finance bill would reduce spending on the plans AHIP cites by $113 billion over the next decade, which could mean reduced insurer profits, higher co-payments by beneficiaries or fewer extra benefits such as eyeglasses and gym memberships.

"We want to begin to build an awareness of the potential implications to seniors," said AHIP President Karen Ignagni.

It seems by the administrations actions that they are less than interested in an open debate of the issue and more interested in a snow job. If the information is out there than at least the average person can make an informed decision otherwise consumers are relegated to the roll of hapless sheep being led to the slaughter.

She refused to say how much money would be spent on the commercials airing in six states, but one advertising analyst said the industry has enough cash to pose a serious threat. "They can spend whatever they feel they need to influence this," said Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. "Seniors are a very important group politically."

The insurance sector and health-maintenance organizations spent more than $116 million on lobbying over the first six months of this year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

"It's pretty clear now, they intend at the eleventh hour to launch a very expensive and misleading campaign against reform," Pfeiffer said.
Misleading in what way? The plan clearly calls for the cuts in Medicare, it in fact requires them to reduce the cost of the overall program. The report seems to be in line with the proposed plan and C.B.O. reports.

From the earliest days of his presidency, Obama approached the health-care debate determined to not repeat the mistakes of President Bill Clinton. Obama invited business leaders to the White House for brainstorming sessions and negotiated deals with several industries, including hospitals and drugmakers. The insurance industry had a seat at the table.

The one mistake, the fatal mistake, which Obama has overlooked, is the same one that doomed Clinton; disregarding the will of the people. Until the politically expedient realize that this type of overhaul is not what the people want they are doomed to fail. Even if they succeed in ramming through this legislation they do so under pain of political suicide.

"We had no public face of opposition," Pfeiffer said. Yet all the while, the insurers were "milling around in the background," unable to reach an accord but muted in their objections, he said.

There is a public face to the opposition they have just chosen to ignore it. That face is the thousands who have presented themselves at town hall meetings and other public events to protest this legislation. If they see no face they are willfully ignorant of the facts.

Since Labor Day, the industry has been on the receiving end of more than $25 million of critical advertising, Tracey estimated.

Ignagni complained of a "major effort to discredit and silence" the industry and its allies. "That's just wrong in a democracy."

She stood by the report her group commissioned and said she expects other analyses to reach similar conclusions that the bills now before Congress would not constrain skyrocketing medical bills.

Not only will this bill not constrain costs, it is likely to increase them while simultaneously denigrating services. It’s a lose-lose situation.

As the report has come under fire, PricewaterhouseCoopers has distanced itself somewhat from it. The firm said Monday that AHIP had instructed it to focus on only some features of the bill, while not taking into account other major features such as the effect of subsidies for those buying insurance.

"America's Health Insurance Plans engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to prepare a report that focused on four components of the Senate Finance Committee proposal," the company said in a statement. "As the report itself acknowledges, other provisions that are part of health reform proposals were not included in the PwC analysis."


Lawmakers were divided on the issue, largely along party lines, with many Democrats suggesting that the industry actions will serve only to further aggravate many voters.
"The insurance industry ought to be ashamed of this report," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said during committee debate.

The administration and its sycophants should be ashamed of this demagoguery. They are intentionally misleading the American public.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said the last-minute attacks by the industry "are one more indicator we're on the right track."

Harvard University pollster Robert Blendon said public opinion remains mixed.
"Most people are afraid these bills are going to raise their costs, so this could raise public anxiety," he said. "At the same time, the health insurance industry is at the bottom of the scale of people's trust."

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday that he would not support the Finance Committee bill because of cost concerns.

"I'm afraid that in the end the Baucus bill is actually going to raise the price of insurance for most of the people in the country," he said on Fox Business Network's "Imus in the Morning" program.

In committee debate, Republicans pressed CBO chief Douglas Elmendorf on the impact of the legislation on total health spending nationwide and on insurance premiums, but he did not take a side in the debate.

"We can't assess the effects on national health expenditures," he said. "There are so many conflicting forces we have not been able to assess the effect on premiums."

That last line really sums it up best. The administrations claims are based, optimistically, on a best guess scenario. The question is still one of trust. Robert Blendon may be right that the insurance industry is on the bottom of the people’s scale of trust but I would be willing to bet that politicians are a close second.

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