AHIP’s quiet efforts to kill health care reform

AHIP’S QUIET EFFORTS TO KILL HEALTH CARE REFORM…. Private health insurance companies said repeatedly throughout 2009 that they were sincerely interested in playing a constructive role in the health care reform debate.

Way back in March, Karen Ignagni, head of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), vowed, “You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year,” As recently as October, “Ignagni declared that the insurance industry is still on board with the Democratic health care reform effort, pushing back against the presumption that the two sides have declared war.”

But while AHIP was stressing its commitment to the reform initiative, and assuring policymakers of its good-faith intentions, insurers were secretly financing blatantly dishonest attack ads, hoping to kill the entire effort, quietly funneling money to outside groups. National Journal has the story:

Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation’s biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.

That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multi-million dollar donations.

At the exact same time as AHIP was telling the Washington Post that insurers “continue to strongly support reform,” AHIP was already quietly using its ad budget to mislead the country and weaken support for the plan.

I realize these revelations may have a dog-bites-man quality. “Imagine that — health insurance companies were being sleazy and dishonest while trying to screw over the country,” some of you are no doubt thinking. “Will wonders never cease.”

But this story should remove all doubt. There are still plenty of conservative lawmakers, for example, who are prepared to take marching orders from AHIP. Worse, there are still plenty of Americans who’ve seen AHIP’s subsidized attack ads, and don’t realize that they’re being lied to. Officially, AHIP still wants to maintain the facade that it’s a friend of health care reform.

Policymakers struggling to resolve differences on the final reform bill may want to keep a simple adage in mind: don’t let AHIP’s duplicitous campaign win.