AETNA ASKS FOR IT…. Under the circumstances, you’d think private health insurance companies would be on their best behavior. After all, lawmakers are considering all kinds of changes to the system — including increased regulation of the industry and the creation of a possible public option — because insurers have done so poorly in providing a critical public service.

This should be, in theory, a time in which these companies put their best foot forward — a chance for insurers to prove they can do the right thing.

It’s interesting, then, to see Aetna announce that it intends to “force up to 650,000 clients to drop their coverage next year as it seeks to raise additional revenue to meet profit expectations.” It’s also raising premiums on its customers — again.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did the right thing today when he called Aetna out. (Jed Lewison has the video)

“You see, one of the largest private insurance companies in America made a lot of money last year — more than a billion dollars, in fact. Its chairman and CEO took home at least $100 million of that money himself.

“This health care company is going to make a healthy profit again this year. But its executives decided the profit they’re making isn’t quite big enough. So this multibillion-dollar company found a clever way to make sure next year’s bottom line is even bigger: it’s raising its rates.

“As you might expect, those higher premiums are going to be too expensive for many. How many? It could be as many as 650,000 people.

“That’s more than the entire populations of North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. It’s more than the entire populations of Baltimore and Boston and Denver and Seattle. How many people is this one company willing to drop? You could count every man, woman and child in Las Vegas and still have almost 100,000 people left over.

“But here’s the worst part: That shocking estimate comes directly from the president of the company himself. The means the company devised this strategy, crunched the numbers and saw how many American families it was going to hurt. Then the bosses shrugged their shoulders and decided to go ahead with it anyway.”

And remember, for those 44 senators who oppose the public option — 40 Republicans, three Democrats, and Joe Lieberman — protecting companies like Aetna from even a little competition from a public plan is worth killing health care reform over.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.