‘Take one of these, and call us in a decade’

‘TAKE ONE OF THESE, AND CALL US IN A DECADE’…. Watching President Obama’s weekly address this morning, it seems the White House has had just about enough of the insurance industry’s antics in opposition to health care reform. As presidential weekly addresses go, this was the equivalent of dropping the gloves.

After noting recent progress on the legislative process — the president said the debate is “draw[ing] to a close,” adding that we are “closer to reforming the health care system than we have ever been in history” — and reemphasizing why reform is so desperately needed, Obama turned his attention to the insurance industry, which is marshalling its forces “for one last fight to save the status quo.”

“They’re filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads,” the president said. “They’re flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they’re funding studies designed to mislead the American people.

“Of course, like clockwork, we’ve seen folks on cable television who know better, waving these industry-funded studies in the air. We’ve seen industry insiders — and their apologists — citing these studies as proof of claims that just aren’t true. They’ll claim that premiums will go up under reform; but they know that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that reforms will lower premiums in a new insurance exchange while offering consumer protections that will limit out-of-pocket costs and prevent discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. They’ll claim that you’ll have to pay more out of pocket; but they know that this is based on a study that willfully ignores whole sections of the bill, including tax credits and cost savings that will greatly benefit middle class families. Even the authors of one of these studies have now admitted publicly that the insurance companies actually asked them to do an incomplete job.

“It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, ‘Take one of these, and call us in a decade.’ Well, not this time. The fact is, the insurance industry is making this last-ditch effort to stop reform even as costs continue to rise and our health care dollars continue to be poured into their profits, bonuses, and administrative costs that do nothing to make us healthy — that often actually go toward figuring out how to avoid covering people. And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our anti-trust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.

“Now, I welcome a good debate. I welcome the chance to defend our proposals and to test our ideas in the fires of this democracy. But what I will not abide are those who would bend the truth — or break it — to score political points and stop our progress as a country.”

It’s not the first time the White House has signaled its displeasure with the insurance industry, but this is by far the hardest-hitting rhetoric we’ve heard from the president on private insurers.

This is also a reminder of the value in having a principal enemy to focus on. TNR‘s Suzy Khimm noted the other day, “Activists on the left have long insisted that insurance companies aren’t to be trusted. But up until now, it’s been hard to make the charge stick, since the insurance lobby — a.k.a., America’s Health Insurance Plans — has been cooperating with the White House and its allies. AHIP’s new paper, though, may have changed things.”

That change is reflected in this presidential weekly address. Reformers disagree on a variety of policy details, but their common foe is now obvious.